Mini-Report from Fordham International IP Conference
As mentioned elsewhere, I haven’t missed the Fordham IIP conference for years. Oriented largely towards the intellectual property industry, both in the sense of practitioners and those industries driving up the protection rachet, the value I extract from it is in inverse relation to the sympathy that I feel with the perspectives usually expressed; I learn from listening to those whose views I oppose. Unfortunately this year my participation was curtailed due to work commitments, so I missed an essential part of the gig, namely compere High Hansen’s acidic jokes at the expense of all the nabobs present. My pal Mako suggests that this is in fact the secret elixir behind the events repeated success: the bigwigs come with sado-masochistic urges, to see/hear themselves abused by Hansen, and take pleasure in the sight of others receiving the same treatment. Perhapa this is a case for Slavoj Zizek?
At this point in the IP wars everyone has their roles well-rehearsed, so there were relatively few surprises or revelations. PhRMA representatives, media industry types etc bemoaned the fact that the oodles of extra protection they’ve received in recent years are insufficient to protect the vital work they’re carrying out from the assault by nasty pirates. Yawn. We heard from the IFPI how the three step test in the Berne/WTO convention on limitations and exceptions to copyright protection is excessively promiscuous, but they would say that, wouldn’t they.
Later there was a debate about the use of compulsory licenses on pharmaceutical products in Thailand, a current hotspot for this conflict (along with Brazil and India). The Thai government has issued CLs on second generation AIDS treatments along with another drug for treating heart disease, enabling them to make treatment accessible for their citizens at much reduced prces. Opponents to this policy have learned a thing or two over the years, so there was no vulgar ‘let them pay or let them die‘ talk. Instead the adversaries were incredibly boring and emphasised supposed procedural faux-pas committed by the new (military) government rather than arguing the policy.
Jamie Love made his usual well informed contributuon, pointing out that Italy has issued compulsory licenses on several occasions in recent years without great controversey (most recently a prostrate drug in March of this year). One deduces that it is a lot more difficult to demonize, isolate and berate an EU country following a progressive policy on these subjects than is the case with a nation in south-east Asia. Industry representatives pointed out that Thai government ministers are raising their own salaries of its own ministers whilst cutting the health budget, and this is a valid point: politicians suck and line their own pockets (universal truth) but that’s no reason to pay the extortionate prices charged by the pharamaceutical industry as a global racketeering operation.
During the next session there was an update from Victoria Espinel of the United States Trade Representative, which is not an institution I like. Their most recent sin is their annual section 301 report ( a sort of grade-card on each country’s compliance with US interpretations of international copyright standards). She was all excited because they have just been allocated a whole new office dedicated entirely to IP and Innovation. This is worrying as a text-book example of institutional behaviour: the USTR has grown on the back of an aggressive expansionist IP policy, which is now being consolidated in the institutional DNA – a seperate new office can only be understood as a reward for their contribution so far, so the message is obviously continue on the same tack…
Espinel did have one positive nugget to communicate however, which is that with the recent Democrat takeover of the House Way and Means Committee there is apparently pressue on to revisit some of the terms of recent Bilateral Trade Agreements with developing countries. Panama, Peru and Colombia have all recently signed deals with the US and it seems that many democrats regard the IP tems as having been too exacting and wish to relax some elements, which is good news.
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