A Closer Look at Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) can oftentimes be seen in discussions among several spheres of knowledge and domestic and international bodies. In the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Fiscal Crisis for instance, free trade agreements (FTAs) and economic partnership agreements (EPAs) have been characterized by the tight implementation of intellectual properties along with easier market access as alternatives to multilateral agreements with WTO according to Professor Walden Bello’s, “Globalization in Retreat,” which was posted at the Inquirer at the start of the year.

While it is understandable for research firms and large industries and corporations to safeguard intellectual assets because of the cost associated with the necessary research and development to cultivate such assets, a question is posed as to whether lesser developed countries (LDCs) can cope with their more developed counterparts.

In its report entitled, “Least Developed Countries Report 2007*,” which was released last month, the United Nations Press Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) insists selective adaptation should be given in favor LDCs to help in their aim for economic development and poverty reduction.

*In PDF Format

The said report points several flaws of a pertinent imposed IPR agreement of the WTO. To quote UNCTAD’s official press release for the said report:

…it is unrealistic on current trends to expect that most such countries will achieve “a sound and viable technological base” by 2013, the deadline now set for their compliance with international standards as required by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In principle, LDCs can benefit from extended grace periods before they must comply with all terms of TRIPS. They have until 2013 — and until 2016 for certain parts of the agreement applying to pharmaceuticals… But the report shows that in practice a growing number of free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties, and other international trade pacts… override these special conditions. They restrict the use of flexibilities and exceptions and actually impose more stringent requirements on LDCs than those required of other developing countries or even of non-LDC WTO members. These so-called TRIPS-Plus requirements exceed standard WTO commitments on intellectual property. More stringent requirements also are imposed in the process of accession by LDCs to the WTO…

Obtaining technology is critical for LDCs… the report contends: A “one size fits all” model, such as the TRIPS Agreement, does not hold much promise of increased innovation, whether within LDCs or through the transfer of technology to such countries.

Because of the importance of technology in the development of LDCs, it is pointed out further that in the history of the development of industrialists in both North America, Europe and the emerging industrial powerhouses in Asia, “creative technological imitation was critical” and possible because of “weak or non-existent intellectual property protection.” At the core of the report’s recommendations is the proposal not to subject the transition period for LDC’s to a specific deadline but when the goal of having “a sound and viable technological base” as mentioned in the TRIPS Preamble.

Finally a case study on the manufacturing sector of Bangladesh is presented-that’s 155 firms in the agro-processing, textiles and garments, and pharmaceuticals to evaluate “the impact of intellectual property rights (IPRs) on innovation in an LDC.”

Speaking of pharmaceuticals, here is a Guardian Unlimited article placing attention on present-day pharmaceutical intellectual property issues and how it prevents developing countries from having access to cheap medicines according to Oxfam. It was written November last year when the world commemorated the fifth year of the Doha declaration. Among those mentioned to be involved in fight for patents involved Pfizer vs. the Philippines and Novartis vs. India-the latter surprisingly from the leading producer of inexpensive drugs.

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