Scientists in the city at the center of China’s virus outbreak have applied to patent a drug made by US company Gilead Science Inc. to treat the disease, possibly fueling the conflict over technology policy that helped trigger Washington’s tariff war with Beijing. The government-run Wuhan Institute of Virology said this week it applied for the patent in January along with a military laboratory, the AP reports. An institute statement acknowledged there are "intellectual property barriers" but said it acted to "protect national interests." Granting its own scientists a patent might give the Chinese government leverage in negotiations over paying for the drug. But it also might fuel complaints Beijing abuses its regulatory system to pressure foreign companies to hand over valuable technology.
Clinical trials of the drug, remdesivir, are due to start Thursday, according to state media. Gilead said it applied in 2016 for a Chinese patent on use of remdesivir against coronaviruses and is waiting for a decision. China has the right under World Trade Organization rules to declare an emergency and compel a company to license a patent to protect the public. It would be required to pay a license fee that is deemed fair market value. The government might be able to avoid that fee if the patent were granted to the Wuhan Institute, part of the elite Chinese Academy of Sciences. The institute said it applied for a "use patent" that specifies the Wuhan virus as the drug’s target. Gilead’s patent application, filed before the virus was identified, cites only the overall family of coronaviruses.
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