The European Union is open to discussing waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.
"The EU is also ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner," the EU executive chief said during a press conference.
Her comments come amid criticism of the slow roll-out of vaccines to poorer countries. Waiving the patents would allow them to produce their own vaccines.
The EU, US and other vaccine-producing countries have also been accused of hoarding the vaccines and of being more concerned about protecting profits for the pharmaceutical industry.
"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.
US Ambassador Katherine Tai signalled openness on Wednesday to suspending patent rights, indicating that Washington would discuss this step with the World Trade Organization (WTO).
However, to address immediate needs all vaccine-producing countries should allow exports of the jabs, von der Leyen said.
The EU had exported more than 200 million vaccine doses, von der Leyen added.
Discussion in Porto summit
Von der Leyen's announcement comes shortly before EU leaders are to meet in Porto on Friday and Saturday.
The 27 heads of state and government would discuss the possibility of suspending patent rights, European Council President Charles Michel said on Thursday.
"We must develop global production capacity with financial support from the EU for developing partners," he said on Twitter.
Generally, EU leaders were not averse to the idea, an EU official said: there was "a broad consensus" to discuss the matter, the official said.
But while waiving patent-rights could increase the global Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing by for example opening production sites also in African countries, this process could take several months, he said.
The leaders are to meet in person for the first time in several months. Their main agenda point will be social rights - a disputed topic, as many countries insist on this being up to member states, not EU competence. However, they are also expected to cover other current affairs issues.