Global IP and the Global Economy

The global economy and global IP system are both complex and interdependent.  As they both grow and evolve there are a continual challenges, for example in keeping the IP system of emerging economies in step with their own economic growth and in turn keeping their IP systems in sync with those of other countries, particularly the developed countries with mature and sophisticated IP systems.  How these complex array of IP legal systems will work, and how they will support and encourage economic growth is one of the key issues IP faces in the coming decade.

Over the past half century we have moved from the global village connected by hi-tech telecommunications to a global economy reliant on a complex web of suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.  A global economy with countries and regions having economies at different stages of development, and different needs locally, nationally, regionally.  No one economic model, no one road map for the future.  Large companies with global reach increasingly seeing IP as unified asset, managed and used to support their global aspiration: global brands, global patent wars.  More subtly, rising, striving economies presenting opportunities for collaboration and partnering, in research and development, as well as manufacturing and sales.  Smaller companies lacking global reach face threats from misuse of their IP, far outside their reach and control.  Meanwhile, bringing aspiring, rapidly developing economies up to the level of mature developed economies, presents a whole range of issues, problems and challenges, including in IP.

Wherever, whatever the nature of the economic activity, IP has a role, a key role to play. The diversity of the economic challenges is a measure of the diversity of issues that IP faces.  One of the current and continuing issues is aligning the IP systems of mature economies with those of developing economies, most notably the so-called BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, and China.  The dynamics and arguments around this harmonisation activity show some of the issues faced more broadly by global industries operating under different IP regimes.

Most developed countries have IP systems developed from 19th Century European “International Conventions”, legal treaties between generally equal trading partners wanting innovation, particularly technical innovation, and brands, recognised and rewarded beyond their own national borders.  Systematic, complex and detailed, these legal systems have underpinned IP for more than a century, Supplemented by additional international, regional and national laws to translate and implement their provisions, they have been largely successful, at least for larger companies.  More recently, additional treaties and laws have been added to cope with developments in technology, like genetic engineering, and the increasing desire to have harmonised, shared processes for dealing with IP. For example, the Patent Convention Treaty over seen by the World IP Organisation (WIPO) allows a single patent application to spawn national patent applications in more than a hundred countries.  The early participants in these regional and global moves to IP protection and harmonisation have created and accepted a range of compromises and adaptations to suit their evolving situations, tailoring the “global” IP systems to their needs.

The economic and IP positions of developing countries, even the more advanced developing ones like the BRIC countries, are very different from the mature economies which have evolved IP laws and systems in parallel with their own economic growth and development.  Harmonising IP laws and processes helps align developed and developing economies but keeping those developments in line with differing interests both local and global is challenging.  In some cases, for eample the sharing and use of traditional knowledge in India, the local, national approach to IP is so different from the global “norm” that changes to local culture and identity can be the unintended consequence of global IP harmonisation.  India is also an example, by no means a unique example, of country struggling with the balance of local, national needs and IP rules that would give exclusivity in pharmaceutical drugs common elsewhere.  The intellectual debate about the ethics of IP present today in India is a continuation of the long debate which has moved around the world with technological, legal, and ethical developments.  There is not universal support for IP, with some fearing or rejecting the exclusivity in knowledge, which they believe IP brings.  The concept of IP as fundamental human right – the output of the individuals mind the property of the individual – is not universally accepted.

The IP Observer does start from the principle of IP being a fundamental human right.  In much the same way that a worker has the right to benefit from their labour, independently or by working for other, each of us has the right to benefit from the work of our minds, from what we create.  Such individual rights are another dimension to the global IP system.  Human rights issues involving  IP rights are not uncommon, though usually the clashes are characterised in terms of freedom of speech or freedom of expression.  It is our own ideas that are at stake, whether we can express them freely or not.  As we express our ideas we create IP, our IP, which defines our contribution to human society, including our contribution to the global economy.

Keeping an eye on all changes and evolutions in the IP system would be beyond the IP Observers capabilities, so the IP Observer will focus on giving insight into the more important and more contentious issues of global IP evolution, and a general oversight more broadly.

When you remove the range of options more developed nations have had, there is inevitably an impact and this will increase the need for innovation, or at least it should be a spur.