Museveni intervenes in Covidex ownership row

Thursday July 22 2021
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President Yoweri Museveni. PHOTO/COURTESY

By JAMES KABENGWA
By Tonny Abet

President Museveni has intervened in the wrangle between Mbarara University and Associate Prof Patrick Ogwang over the ownership of Covidex, the State minister for investment and privatization has revealed.

Ms Evelyn Anite, while speaking to journalists at Uganda Investment Authority headquarters yesterday also asked lawyers suing Prof Ogwang to stop.

“About the legal gymnastics, the President is leading the discussions. But you have to understand that Mbarara University is a government entity and the President is keenly involved. He is interested in the matter and has made it clear that we should leave the legal gymnastics aside,” Minister Anite said.

“Don’t be worried about those suing you [Prof Ogwang]. We will support you [Prof Ogwang] financially, morally legally, mention it, we will give you all the support and so says our President,” she added.

President Museveni’s intervention comes after  Mbarara University claimed intellectual Property Rights for  Covidex, a supportive Covid-9 treatment, manufactured by Prof Ogwang’s Jena Herbals Limited. 

Earlier, the Mbarara University vice chancellor, Prof Celestino Obua said the institution owned the Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) for Covidex and that it was developed with  public resources.

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“Any third party interested in production, distribution or sales of Covidex herbal medicine without prejudice is hereby asked to desist from negotiating any deals with any individual, other than the University authority who is the holder of the Intellectual Property Rights for this product…”  Prof Obua said in a statement.

Prof Ogwang revealed that Jena Herbals Limited has capacity to manufacture 30,000 bottles of Covidex per day and that they sell each bottle at Shs7,000. 

There is high demand for the product after the National Drug Authority (NDA) last month approved  it as a supportive treatment for Covid-19. 

 Following an exchange between Prof Ogwang’s lawyers and the University, other lawyers have also emerged to sue Prof Ogwang and NDA over ownership.

Mr Jude Mbabali, a  lawyer from Advocates for People (AFP), is among those suing Prof Ogwang.
He argued that section 20(5) and 20(7) of the Industrial Property Act enacted in 2014, stipulates that when an employee innovates an idea during the course of employment, that innovation belongs to the employer but the employee is paid by the employer a commission in case there are proceeds.

Deeper details 

Documents Daily Monitor has seen indicate that on April 19, 2020 a proposal to develop a Covid-19 cure was developed by MUST and submitted to the Ministry of Science and Technology. The same document was resubmitted on November 30, 2020.

Dr Ogwang,  the deputy head of the Pharmbiotrac, a research centre at MUST, was listed as project contact person but working along with six members.

At the time the proposal was resubmitted,  the pandemic had claimed the lives of 201 Ugandans while only 8,944 had recovered. Cumulatively, the country had 19,944 cases of Covid-19.

The project strategic objectives were to conduct pre-clinical safety validation in laboratory models of three antiviral and immune modulating herbal drug, and identify the safest herbal drug products for clinical trial.

A Shs283m request was made from the government.

On January 12, the government was represented by the Permanent Secretary ministry of Science Technology and Innovation and the Vice Chancellor Mbarara University (the grant recipient). 
Shs283m was borrowed from the World Bank and given to MUST.
According to the agreement, all the work would be  done for and on behalf of government.

The agreement stipulated that MUST would account for all the funds, property and assets used, and that the university would be the inventor of Covidex and owner of Intellectual property rights. Covidex and all its adverts were supposed to have labels acknowledging government of Uganda.

Prof Ogwang, as principal investigator, was paid Shs36m and also received Shs28m for fuel and coordination.  The other co-investigators received Shs40m. 

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