Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft
Online edition of India's National Newspaper on indiaserver.com Tuesday, July 20, 1999
TRIPS & its negative features
By B. P. Jeevan Reddy
THE HUMAN Development Report 1999, released last week, contains data of great relevance to developing countries such as India. It says globalisation offers great opportunities for human advance but only with stronger governance and greater regulation. At the same time, it sets out the ill-effects of globalisation, contributing to greater misery and suffering among the poorer nations. It points out that over the last decade the gap between the rich and the poor has been increasing significantly. For instance, ``the assets of the top three billionaires are more than the combined GNP of all least developed countries and their 600 million people.''
Intellectual Property Rights were first raised as a multilateral trade issue in 1986 under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to crack down on counterfeit goods. But with many industrial countries interested in negotiations on trade liberalisation to tighten control over technology, this narrow focus was soon extended to include many other areas. ``Although each country implements the Intellectual Property Rights law at the national level, the TRIPS agreement imposes minimum standards on patents, copyright, trade marks and trade secrets. These standards are derived from the legislation of industrial companies, applying the form and level of protection of the industrial world to all WTO members. This is far tighter than existing legislation in most developing countries and often conflicts with their national interest and needs''.
The Report further says the big corporations define research agendas and tightly control their findings with patents, racing to lay claim to intellectual property under the rules set out in the agreement on TRIPS and that as a result poor people and poor countries risk being pushed to the margin in this proprietary regime controlling the world's knowledge. The Report says ``From new drugs to better seeds, the best of the new technologies are priced for those who can pay. For poor people they remain far out of reach.
Tighter property rights raise the price of technology transfer, blocking developing countries from the dynamic knowledge sectors. The TRIPS agreement will enable multinationals to dominate the global market even more easily.
New patent laws pay scant attention to the knowledge of indigenous people. These laws ignore cultural diversity in the way innovations are created and shared - and diversity in views on what can and should be owned, from plant varieties to human life. The result: a silent theft of centuries of knowledge from some of the poorest communities in developing countries''.
After setting out the negative features of the TRIPS Agreement, the Report says ``Intellectual Property Rights under the TRIPS agreement need comprehensive review to redress their perverse effects undermining food security, indigenous knowledge, biosafety and access to healthcare'' and then proceeds to suggest the strategies which the developing and less developed countries should adopt to counteract the ill-effects of unequal multilateral agreements. It suggests that the ``poor and small countries should pursue active participation in the global dialogues on multilateral agreements from their development to negotiations to implementation.'' They should ``link negotiations on intellectual property rights with rights to emit carbon into the atmosphere - and to link environmental assets like rain forests to negotiations on trade, debt and investment. They can also gain in negotiations by pooling resources for policy analysis and developing common negotiating positions. Regional collective action is a first step in this direction.'' It suggests that following actions be set taken immediately to strengthen the bargaining position of the poor and small countries:
``Provide legal aid. The WTO dispute settlement mechanisms can be fair only when the parties to a dispute have access to expert services of equal calibre to argue their case. An independent legal aid centre is needed to support poor countries.