A doctor working in a lab

On 17 March 2023, the High Court of Kampala declared that an Associate Professor of the Mbarara University of Technology is the sole and true owner of a drug used for COVID treatment developed by him, thus granting him also the economic rights to exploit such invention.

In 2021, both the Professor and the Uganda National Drugs Authority (NDA) were sued in a public-interest litigation which challenged the ownership of the drug as well as the declaration of the drug as a support drug for COVID.

The applicants argued, in the first place, that the NDA had not conducted proper studies and inquiries about the new drug and it was therefore unlawful to allow the professor to produce and distribute it. Furthermore, they argued that since the research for the drug’s development was conducted at the Mbarara University of Technology, it was the University which should have gotten ownership of the drug, also in the light of the fact that it received funding from the World Bank to conduct research on the drug. The Professor, in response, argued that the drug was developed not at the university but at a research center he directs.

The judge pointed out that the applicants had failed to prove their interest in the matter, which has to be objectively defined. The applicants mentioned objectives broadly related to the rule of law and to the respect of human rights, but did not manage to link such general considerations to the specific claim brought forward. Thus, there were no elements, according to the court, to sustain the application as related to public-interest and to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the second place, the court noted that the drug was indeed produced at the center directed by the Professor and not at the University, and it was created before the university received grants to carry out research on it. Therefore, the copyright cannot be of the university.

In the third place, the court noted that the applicants did not possess the proper expertise to judge the completeness of the inquiry procedures carried out by the NDA on drugs and their claim did not offer valid points about it.

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