Intellectual property rights and development
Friday, July 30, 2010
The debate about intellectual property rights and development has been raging for years, especially after the World Trade Organisation’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreements was enacted in 1994. International Policy Network has been active participant in this debate as it touches many of the issues that we work on related to development.
Here is quite a comprehensive literature review (opens pdf) about the impact that stronger intellectual property rights have had on developing countries put together by the RAND Corporation at the behest of the UK Intellectual Property Office. It’s very much a kind of “on the one hand, on the other hand” study, but it should make for quite useful reading for anyone interested in learning more about the debate. There is much to pore over. James Delong over at Digital Society has written a short but good review.
Unfortunately some of the myths promoted by anti-IP activists are given credibility in this otherwise rather good survey. One of those is the so-called 10/90 Gap, which was debunked by IPN in this 2004 report. Because of intellectual property rights, activists argue that pharmaceutical companies invest 90% of their R&D budgets on diseases that only affect 10% of global population. A great story if you’re trying to stick to a “capitalism harms the poor” narrative, but unfortunately for the script-writers this just isn’t true.
It is also rather unfortunate that the RAND researchers ignored “Nashville in Africa”—academic version here and IPN white-paper version here- which discusses how intellectual property rights must not be viewed only as a “cost” for people in poor countries. In the right circumstances, entrepreneurs in poor countries can already be competitive in industries that rely on the protection of intellectual property rights, but only if their property is protected at home. Many African cultures are widely recognised for their cultural talent and skill, yet most African music is produced and recorded in Paris and London. This only contributes to stagnation at home and “brain-drain”. Why? The lack of effective intellectual property rights protection back home is one of the main reasons.