The final Brexit agreement, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (the “TCA”) was agreed between the UK and the EU on 24 December 2020. Within this agreement are provisions that set out the standards expected to be recognised (mutually) between the EU and the UK in relation to intellectual property (including SPCs and trade secrets). There are some provisions concerning pharmaceutical regulation and product standards, but overall there is a lack of mutual recognition, with the consequence that, for both pharmaceuticals and medical devices, there are now effectively two separate regimes for the EU and the UK.

Intellectual Property

The provisions on IP match or exceed those for IP set out in the various treaties to which the UK and EU have acceded (such as WIPO, WTO and TRIPS agreements).  These IP standards are to be maintained as a minimum. The cited objectives and scope in relation to intellectual property (see Title V) indicate the aims behind these provisions which are to:

(a) facilitate the production, provision and commercialisation of innovative and creative products and services between [the UK and the EU] by reducing distortions and impediments to such trade, thereby contributing to a more sustainable and inclusive economy; and

(b) ensure an adequate and effective level of protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The provisions are intended to “complement and further specify the rights and obligations of each [of the UK and the EU] under the TRIPS Agreement and other international treaties in the field of intellectual property to which they are parties” and do not “preclude either [the UK or the EU] from introducing more extensive protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights than required under [this section of the TCA] provided that such protection and enforcement does not contravene [those provisions]”. However, there are aspects of current UK and EU IP law, such as the dilution provisions in trade mark law, to which the agreement does not refer, instead referring to the Paris Convention provisions on the protection of well known marks. Whether this will be a point of future divergence remains to be seen.

Both the UK and the EU also have the ability to develop their own exhaustion regimes. The provisions on geographical indications (“GIs”) indicate that a mutual future scheme has not be agreed although a review clause on GIs has, which provides that the UK and EU may (if both parties agree it is in their interests) use reasonable endeavours to agree rules for the protection and domestic enforcement of their GIs.

The UK Government’s Summary document that accompanies the TCA (see here) states that the agreement “includes mechanisms for cooperation and exchange of information on IP issues of mutual interest” and “retains regulatory flexibility for each [of the UK and the EU], enabling the UK to develop an IP system in line with [its] domestic priorities“, thus enabling the UK to diverge where it so requires.

We have already commented on the changes to the UK IP regime in the firm’s guide to Brexit here (see the IP section).

The Regulation of Medical Devices and Medicinal Products

Medical devices: The TCA has a chapter (4) (under Trade – Title I) on eliminating unnecessary technical barriers to trade which deals with conformity of standards. However, this only provides for an approach under which each party can agree that its standards bodies (including those relating to medical devices) will conform with international standards and will work together to influence those and to “foster bilateral cooperation with the standardising bodies of the other Party“.

For medical devices, it had been hoped that there would be at least mutual recognition of conformity assessment under which each of the EU and the UK would recognise the other’s certification bodies. However, as things stand, although Great Britain will continue to accept CE marked medical devices until 30 June 2023 those devices certified by the UK and marked as UKCA (standing for UK Conformity Assessed, as discussed in more detail in our post here), will not mutually recognised by the EU.

Medicinal Products: For medicinal products there is a dedicated annex in the TCA, Annex TBT-2 – Medicinal Products (the “Medicinal Products Annex”), which applies to all medicinal products listed in its Annex C, namely:

  • marketed medicinal products for human or veterinary use, including marketed biological and immunological products for human and veterinary use,
  • advanced therapy medicinal products,
  • active pharmaceutical ingredients for human or veterinary use,
  • investigational medicinal products,

with this list being subject to amended by the UK-EU Partnership Council (the main governing body for the agreement and supplementing agreements).

The aim of the Medicinal Product Annex is to “facilitate availability of medicines, promote public health and protect high levels of consumer and environmental protection in respect of medicinal products”.  To help achieve this aim, the Annex provides for:

  • the mutual recognition of Good Manufacturing Practice (“GMP”) inspections and certificates, meaning that manufacturing facilities do not need to undergo separate UK and EU inspections;
  • the individual inspection, on notice, by the EU or UK of each other’s facilities); and
  • for the suspension of the mutual recognition arrangements.

Further, the TCA also states that the EU and the UK should work together to implement agreed international guidelines and that any changes to either the UK or the EU’s regulation regime should be on 60 days’ notice and be subject to discussion by a Working Group on Medicinal Products, which will be established to enable mutual consultation. This Working Group on Medicinal Products will be under supervision of the Trade Specialised Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, and will monitor and review implementation and ensure the proper functioning of the Medicinal Products Annex. It is noteworthy that the Medicinal Products Annex is specifically excluded from the TCA’s disputes mechanism, however, through its role in facilitating discussions and functioning as an appropriate forum for issues relating to Medicinal Products, it is hoped that it will be a sufficient mechanism to deal with any concerns.

When considering the confidentiality of information supporting applications for marketing authorisations (“MAs”), regulatory protection of pharmaceutical products, and Supplementary Protection Certificates (“SPC”) it is noteworthy that this is not included in the Medicinal Products Annex, but is included in the IP section (Title V) of the TCA.

  • In relation to regulatory data protection generally, the TCA requires that both the UK and the EU ensure that commercially confidential information submitted to obtain an MA is protected against disclosure to third parties, unless there is an overriding public interest or steps are taken to ensure the data is protected from unfair commercial use.
  • For the regulatory protections of data and market exclusivity, the TCA provides that, subject to any international agreement to which both the EU and the UK are party, and without prejudice to any additional periods of protection which either party may wish to provide for in its domestic law, these regulatory protections will be “for a limited period of time to be determined by domestic law”. This allows each of the UK and the EU to determine the length of such regulatory exclusivities under their own regulatory regimes.
  • For SPCs, the TCA records the agreement of both the UK and the EU to provide for further patent protection to compensate for the impact of regulatory administrative procedures but, again, the length of time is not stipulated.

The effect of these provisions is that they provide some comfort that these valuable forms of protection for medicinal products will be maintained by both the UK and the EU.

For detailed commentary on the new regulatory position for Pharma in the UK, and the impact on IP rights generally, see our series of posts on the HSF Intellectual Property Notes blog here.

Other provisions relevant to the pharmaceutical and medical device industry

The TCA also has provisions relating to the UK’s continued participation in EU programmes and on UK / EU cooperation on “serious cross-border threat[s] to health that are relevant for the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Subject to the UK making financial contributions, Part 5 of the TCA includes agreement on the UK’s continued participation in EU programmes, including the EU’s research and innovation funding programme, Horizon Europe.
  • UK / EU cooperation on serious cross-border threat[s] to health is covered by the TCA including agreement between the UK and the EU on emergency relief in relation to importation requirements, tax and road transport exemptions, and agreement to cooperate in relation to international health security systems.

Future developments

Although tariff free and quota-free trade has been agreed, there is little mutual recognition of regulatory provisions. This may not be the end of negotiations, with automatic reviews every 5 years written into the TCA and termination possible on 12 months’ notice.  See the HSF Brexit blog for further information, and our initial comments here.

Key contacts and authors

Jonathan Turnbull

Jonathan Turnbull
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2174

Rachel Montagnon

Rachel Montagnon
Professional Support Consultant, London
+44 20 7466 2217

George McCubbin

George McCubbin
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2764

Priyanka Madan

Priyanka Madan
Associate - London
+44 20 7466 2986