TRIPS, stumble and fall? – Perils in aligning global IP law

Emerging markets or economies, such as the BRIC countries, are seen as one of the main routes to global economic growth, perhaps even a cure for the current economic down turn.  With globalisation, as companies move into new markets, economic success will depend on a variety of  things including access to and ability to use local IP protection to support business.  As each country has its own unique IP Law, life quickly gets complicated for users.

This is one of the many challenges facing the global IP system:  it is made up of individual national systems which have developed along different paths.   Their origins lie in the emergence of IP as an important commercial asset in the 18th and 19th Centuries.  From the late 19th century international treaties have sought to harmonize the national laws so that IP access to harmonised IP rights can be universally available.  There has been progress and some success: widespread alignment of Trademark and Copyright, and at least for Patents in the application process.

That process of aligning IP system continues, with the TRIPS convention being the latest addition to harmonize global IP Law in number of areas, including patent coverage for pharmaceutical products.  This is a new form of patent protection in countries such as India, which had previously prioritised universal access over individual company exclusivity, even for patents with a limited life time.

Now, hot on the heels of TRIPS come further treaty negotiations which would further enhance IP rules in countries such as India, producing what is dubbed, “TRIPS  Plus”.  These further extensions to IP protection, including such things as rights in clinical test data, have provoked a political storm in India, with  250 NGOs have uniting to protest to the Indian government.  As with other aspects of globalisation, harmonizing IP Laws, making things simpler for users, is going to take time, and a shared knowledge and understanding of the local impact of global intentions.