The Way Forward for Intellectual Property Internationally



Stephen Ezell and Nigel Cory | ITIF


The global economy, including developed and developing nations alike, is becoming more innovation-driven—powered by knowledge, creativity, and technology, each of which is fundamentally supported by intellectual property (IP) and intellectual property rights (IPR) protections. And yet, over the past two decades, the policy debate over IP’s role has come under an increasingly active and coordinated attack, driven by IPR skeptics and opponents hailing from a variety of academic and multilateral institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and some developing nations and policymakers therein. They have done much to advance a false narrative that strong and effective IP is a win-lose, buy-sell proposition, which only helps the developed “North” (as opposed to the underdeveloped “South”).

Yet if the international community is going to maximize global innovation—something that is critical if we are to make faster progress on commonly shared global challenges such as climate change, disease prevention and treatment, and economic growth—we will need a stronger and more wide-ranging consensus on the importance of IP to every country throughout the world. To maximize the role intellectual property can play in enabling innovation across the world, the countries that best recognize the essential link between the two—including the United States, Commonwealth nations, European Union members, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and others—need to revise and amplify efforts to build out and strengthen the international framework of intellectual property rules, norms, and cooperation. A new way ahead is needed to overcome and move beyond the status quo stalemate that defines the intellectual debate over IP in the global economy, which remains starkly and deeply divided along developed-developing country lines that were largely set 20 years ago with the signing of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Despite tremendous changes in technologies and business practices, as well as the need for greater global innovation to help address global policy challenges, the international framework and debate around IP largely pivots around the positions of IPR opponents who favor weak or nonexistent protections and enforcement, and who view IP as enabling monopolistic rents imposed by wealthy multinationals and rich nations. Playing the victim card, they seek to portray IPR as exploitative and favoring the rich North at the expense of the poor South. Opponents of stronger IP rights further advance the view that weak protection and forced redistribution of IP are shortcuts to economic development or paths to address important international challenges such as global warming and human health. But this framing—which is increasingly reflected in global dialogues—is fundamentally misguided and fails to recognize the long-term negative impacts such a policy framing would have on global innovation and productivity, while distracting attention and resources from far-preferable domestic policies that could genuinely support the development, deployment, adoption, and absorption of new technologies by emerging economies.

ITIF - The Way Forward for Intellectual Property Internationally

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