IPN's intervention at World Intellectual Property Organization Meeting, 21 July 2005
Thursday, July 21, 2005
International Policy Network, representing research institutes and academics from around the world working together on creativity, innovation, technology and development issues, has attended each of these inter-sessional meetings regarding a “development agenda” for the WIPO.
The issue of sustainable economic, social and cultural development is of utmost importance to our activities. Understanding the role that intellectual property rights play in these matters is crucial. IPN and its associates understand that clearly defined and readily enforceable IP rights are among the institutions that enable development to progress.
IP rights provide economic incentives to develop creative works and innovative products. They thus enable and encourage increasing numbers of entrepreneurs to satisfy an increasingly differentiated set of tastes among an expanding consumer base.
Many distinguished delegates, including NGOs, at these meetings appear to believe that governments are the primary drivers of development. This is misguided. Development does not result from governments centrally implementing economic plans. Attempts to generate growth through subsidies, trade restrictions, import substitution policies and other forms of interference are nearly always counterproductive.
Development is a process that results from millions of individual actors pursuing their goals in the context of the institutions of the free society. These institutions – property rights, the rule of law, free markets and limited government – provide the boundaries to human action and enable coordination of activities. They thereby enable entrepreneurs to engage in mutually rewarding economic transactions. The process of competition, bounded by these institutions, incentivises innovation and creation – as each person seeks to provide goods and services that are better and/or cheaper than their competitors.
It is encouraging to hear more talk devoted to sustainable cultural, economic and social development, especially from representatives of poorer countries. But in order for these talks to be constructive, it is important to have a more balanced perspective of the role of intellectual property and the other institutions of the free society, especially the rule of law.
A fundamental element of the rule of law is certainty. If there is no certainty, discretion will be applied by those who hold power. The rule of man replaces the rule of law and the confidence of would-be entrepreneurs and investors is undermined. In its place is corruption, inefficiency and injustice.
In the majority of poor countries, market distortions – including taxes and tariffs – are the norm. These act as barriers to entrepreneurship. Likewise, weak definition and enforcement of property rights and an absence generally of the rule of law prevents creators and innovators throughout the world from utilising their talents to their greatest effect. Meanwhile, government intervention has consistently failed to achieve its intended results.
In this context, the “Development Agenda” proposed by the so-called ‘friends of development’ would be counterproductive, since it promotes a view that discretion rather than rules should be the order of the day.
Furthermore, it does not address these fundamental institutions of the free society.
One of the demands is for more transfer of technology. The transfer of know-how is indeed an important way for competitive knowledge-intensive industries to develop in poorer countries, but this demand implies that it should be administered by existing governmental bodies or newly created ones, instead of the institutions of a free society.
Forcing those who have invested in the development of innovative technologies to give up their hard-earned knowledge and increasing the amount of government intervention will undermine investment in creativity and innovation. This is a recipe for disaster not for development.
If the so-called friends of development really are friends of development, those countries must maintain a strong commitment to upholding the institutions which are well recognised to foster development.
IPN concludes by stating that altering WIPOs responsibilities in a way that makes the international body less effective at helping member states foster better IP regimes is not a step towards development.
For more information contact Alec van Gelder (alec = at = policynetwork.net)