State Use Provisions for Patent Law, and Expropriations: Some Comparative Law Guidelines for South Africa during the Covid-19 Crisis and Beyond

  • Mikhalien du Bois
Keywords: Constitutional property law; intellectual property law; patent law; state use of patents; government use of patents; Crown use of patents; patent utilisation; public use; TRIPS Article 31; TRIPS exceptions; expropriations; takings; national disaster; national emergency; COVID-19.


This article views section 4 of the Patents Act 57 of 1978 against section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 and Article 31 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights of 1994 (hereafter TRIPS). The purpose is to find a suitable framework for the state/government use/utilisation of patented products or processes for public purposes. A comparison is done with the Crown use provisions in United Kingdom, Australian and Canadian law to find a suitable approach to questions relating to remuneration for state use, the prior negotiations requirement set by Article 31 of TRIPS, and the public purposes and exclusive patent rights that would be included under state use. The COVID-19 international pandemic has caused a state of national disaster in South Africa, which is exactly the kind of situation of extreme urgency envisioned by the exception in Article 31 of TRIPS, which permits the state use of patents without requiring prior negotiations with the patent owner. In the battle against COVID-19 and its concomitant fallout, the South African government (and authorised private parties) would be permitted to utilise patent rights without explicit authorisation from the patent owner and without prior negotiations, but subject to the payment of reasonable remuneration by the government and other terms and conditions as agreed upon or as determined by a court. This may include making (manufacturing), using, exercising, and importing patented products (for example, personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, ventilators and diagnostic tests) deemed necessary in the fight against COVID-19. Foreign jurisdictions considered in this article indicate that section 4 of the Patents Act 57 of 1978 may certainly benefit from an update to provide detailed guidance on the state use of patented products or processes for public purposes. In the interest of a timeous offensive against the COVID-19 virus, the patent provisions need a speedy update to allow state use compliant with TRIPS and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.


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eISSN: 1727-3781