Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty ImagesThe US and Germany are at odds on the issue of waivers for patents on Covid-19 vaccines, as Berlin argued that a waiver would not increase production and would inhibit future private sector research.The disagreement is the first major rift between the two economic powers since Joe Biden took office, and threatens to deadlock discussions at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and sour relations within the G7 group of major industrialised democracies.Any WTO decision on a waiver would have to be by consensus, so Germany opposition is a major obstacle to intellectual property rights on vaccines being suspended.The Biden government’s announcement on Wednesday that it would back a waiver on vaccine patents was welcomed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a step towards greater global equity at a time when poor countries have little access to vaccines and south Asia has been hit by a devastating outbreak. India accounted for 46% of the new Covid-19 cases recorded around the world over the past week, and there are signs the wave is spreading to Nepal, Sri Lanka and other neighbouring states.Related: US support for Covid vaccine patent waivers puts pressure on EU and UKBut Angela Merkel’s government came out against a waiver on Thursday.“The US suggestion for the lifting of patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines has significant implications for vaccine production as a whole,” a government spokeswoman said.“The limiting factors in the production of vaccines are the production capacities and the high-quality standards and not patents,” she added, arguing that the companies were already working with partners to boost manufacturing capacity.“The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”The US secretary of state, Tony Blinken, said the patent waiver was just one of a variety of means the administration was looking at to intensify the struggle to contain the pandemic.“The main thing is we have to speed this up,” Blinken told MSNBC during a visit to Ukraine. “On the current trajectory, if we don’t do more, if the entire world doesn’t do more, the world won’t be vaccinated until 2024. We can speed this up and get that done, I think, in a much shorter time. And if we do, we’re all going to be better off.”Story continuesPharmaceutical companies reacted with anger to the US decision, and shares in Chinese and American vaccine manufacturers tumbled. Some countries also expressed private astonishment, with one diplomat accusing the US of grandstanding by offering crowd-pleasing simplistic solutions to long-term problems.In normal times, patents preserve the profits of the multinational companies that make drugs and vaccines, making it illegal for rivals to turn out cheap copycat versions for up to 20 years. But amid a pandemic in which the WHO says no one is safe until everyone is safe, campaigners say there is a powerful moral case for ditching them.The Biden announcement on waivers has divided the European Union. Emmanuel Macron said he was “absolutely in favour” of the move, in marked a shift for France, which had previously argued that a patent waiver would discourage innovation.The head of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said the bloc was open to debate. She pointed out that the EU’s vaccination effort was accelerating, with 30 Europeans vaccinated each second, while exporting more than 200m doses. Von der Leyen said Europe was “also ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner”.“That’s why we are ready to discuss how the US proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective,” she said.The head of the panel reviewing the WHO’s handling of the pandemic, Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister, earlier called on countries that have obstructed the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, such as the UK, Switzerland and EU states, to follow the US lead and back the initiative.Related: Covid vaccines: what is patent waiving and will it solve the global shortage?She described the Biden administration’s announcement as a game-changer and said pharmaceutical companies that had received billions in public money now needed to spread knowledge to scale up vaccine production.“When the US moves it is such a powerful signal,” Clark told the BBC. “One would expect the UK, the EU and Switzerland and others that have been obstructing the discussion on the waiver need to say: ‘Yes, we are prepared to negotiate.’”The Duke and Duchess of Sussex entered the debate on Thursday, calling on Covid vaccine manufacturers to act with “responsibility and leadership” and increase their allocation of doses distributed to poorer parts of the world.Harry and Meghan have written an open letter to the chief executives of pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca urging them to redouble their support for the UN-sponsored Covax programme.
An email chain revealed by Epic Games as part of its lawsuit against Apple provides earlier context about Facebook’s battle with Apple over its App Store.Last August, Facebook said Apple’s App Store rules were hampering it from releasing its Facebook Gaming app for iPhones in the way it wanted to.Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company had to remove the part of the app that played games — the point of the app — in order to secure approval on Apple’s App Store for iPhones. Now, emails between three former Apple executives, including Steve Jobs, from 2011 show that a similar conflict between Apple and Facebook was likely part of the reason for a delay for the release of a Facebook app for iPads over a decade ago.Tensions between Apple and Facebook over what the App Store rejects are ongoing. Last year, Facebook publicly accused Apple of using its control over the App Store and iPhone to “harm developers and consumers.”The exchange was published as part of a cache of exhibits used in the Apple-Epic trial, but was removed after it was posted.Apple’s iPad came out in 2010, but Facebook didn’t release an app for it until October 2011. Between those two dates, a Facebook engineer even quit in a public blog post, citing delays in the app’s release partially because of a “strained relationship with Apple.”In July 2011, Apple’s then-software head Scott Forstall sent an email to former Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller and Jobs. In the message, he said that he had spoken with Mark — presumably Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — about the Facebook iPad app.He wrote that he told Mark that Facebook should not include “embedded apps” in its Facebook iPad app.”Not surprisingly, he wasn’t happy with this as he considers these apps part of the ‘whole Facebook experience’ and isn’t sure they should do an iPad app without them,” Forstall wrote.At the time, Facebook was turning its social network into a platform for games and apps. The most famous of these was Farmville, a game where users tended gardens inside their Facebook accounts.Facebook wanted Apple to compromise. Mark suggested, according to Forstall:Facebook could omit a directory of Apps in the Facebook app — not even links.Facebook could prevent third-party apps from running in an “embedded web view,” or basically a browser inside the Facebook app.Facebook wanted Apple to allow user posts in the news feed related to apps. Forstall wrote that those were filtered at the time, because tapping those posts would do nothing.Facebook proposed having tapping one of those app links in the feed switch the user to a native app or take them to the App Store if one exists, or otherwise link out to Safari, the iPhone web browser.Jobs, then CEO of Apple, replied from his iPad: “I agree — if we eliminate Fecebooks third proposal it sounds reasonable.”Three days later, Forstall followed up, saying he had a long conversation with Mark, and that Facebook didn’t like Apple’s counterproposal to forbid Facebook apps to link out to Safari.”But according to Mark, there is no obvious way to distinguish between a poker game and the NYT. Both are Facebook developers and provide Facebook integration,” Forstall wrote.Schiller, who was Apple’s head of marketing until last year and runs Apple’s Executive Review Board that makes calls whether apps will be approved by Apple, summed up Apple’s position.”I don’t see why we want to do that,” Schiller wrote. “All these apps won’t be native, they won’t have a relationship or license with us, we won’t review them, they won’t use our APIs or tools, they won’t use our stores, etc.”When Facebook’s iPad app eventually launched, it said it would not support its own Credits currency on iOS for apps like Farmville — a compromise along the lines of what Apple’s executives discussed.In recent years, the rivalry between the two Silicon Valley neighbors has heated up. Current Apple CEO Tim Cook has taken lightly veiled shots at Facebook’s handling of user privacy, and used Facebook as the example for a recent feature about asking apps “not to track.”Facebook has mounted an ad campaign to say that the iPhone maker’s privacy features hurt small businesses. It has also continued to tweak Apple’s App Store policies, criticizing Apple’s 30% App Store fee for online events in addition to its complaints about its gaming app.Facebook isn’t part of Epic Games’ argument in its legal battle against Apple and its App Store policies. The trial started on Monday and is expected to run three weeks.