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Forum Shifting and the Research & Development Question

Back in June 2004 Jamie Love (Consumer Project on technology) and Tim Hubbard drafted a proposal for alternative framework for the financing of research and development. They suggested that it could lead to a treaty which would offer an alternative to the expansionist intellectual property policies advanced in documents like TRIPS.

Ultimately the purpose of the R&D treaty is to redefine the question which IP law pretends to answer: how do you guarantee a level of innovation whilst being able to grant access to its benefits. The neo-classical IP argument is of course: create a monopoly and the rational profit-seeking. The R&D treaty’s answer is: make everyone pay something (but relate that sum to the ability to pay), give those who pay control over the allocation of the financing (so sub-saharan countries finance the development of cures to sub-saharan diseases), take away the monopoly and maximize access – whilst maintaining quality – by creating a market in production techniques.

One of the fora where this idea was pushed was the World Health Organization, where a major victory was won this summer with the passing of Resolution WHA59.24 calling amongst other things for ““an enhanced and sustainable basis for needs-driven, essential health research and development relevant to diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries.” The initiative was driven by delegations from Kenya and Brazil, but it was noted at the time that one of the reasons for its unimpeded passage was the cooperation of the US. From what IP Watch have discovered, this approach was not to last, as revealed in a telling diplomatic message sent to developing country governments by the US suggesting that WHO was exceeding its remit. Their position is that WIPO and the WTO are the correct places for this discussion to take place.

There is an irony in these accusations of forum-shifting. Until the late 1970s no-one would have contested that WIPO was the global forum for IP negotaition, and that indeed is why developing countries, surfing the wave of decolonization enthusiasm, attempted to instigate a reform process there from the lat 1960s onwards. It even led to the addition of a “Protocol Regarding Developing Countries” (see the appendix to the Berne Treaty) that nobody remembers or refers to anymore. These countries also sought changes to the Paris Convention on Industrial Property regarding patents but to no avail. At this point those industries relying on monopoly rights for their generous profit margins decided that if they wanted to advance their own agenda, they’d have to look elsewhere. In 1979 they began a lobbying process which drew IP questions into the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs via TRIPS and brought to an end to the age of national sovereignty in IP policy. Peter Drahos describes this brilliantly in his essential book “Information Feudalism”. Susan Sell’sPower and Ideas: North-South Politics of Intellectual Property and Antitrust ” documents the attempts to reform the international trade order and promote technology transfer.


December 18, 2006 - Posted by | patent, social cooperation, trade

1 Comment »

  1. I’m the only one in this world. Can please someone join me in this life? Or maybe death…

    Comment by Ruicauniogiah | April 24, 2009 | Reply

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