Daily Archives: January 4, 2011

New Book from PIIPA: Intellectual Property and Human Development

PIIPA – Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors – recently published this book, subtitled Current Trends and Future ScenariosPIIPA is a non-profit that provides pro bono IP legal counsel to governments, businesses, indigenous peoples, and public interest organizations in developing countries that seek to promote health, agriculture, biodiversity, science, culture, and the environment.  The email I received announcing the launch provides this description:

“…(the book) examines the social impact of intellectual property laws as they relate to health, food security, education, new technologies, preservation of bio-cultural heritage, and contemporary challenges in promoting the arts.

It explores how intellectual property frameworks could be better calibrated to meet socioeconomic needs in countries at different stages of development, with local contexts and culture in mind. Scenarios for the future are discussed.”

You can download the book at http://piipa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=99&Itemid=77

There are nine chapters covering everything from traditional knowledge to education. I read Chapter 3 – Food security and intellectual property rights: Finding the linkages which seek to:

 “… identify some of the connections and linkages between food security and IP, particularly in terms of how the right to food as a human right may become affected through policy and legal restrictions and limitations imposed by the very nature of IP.”

 The authors believe that:

 “The balance between controlled access and free access (to food) is at the core of the IP system. There are strong voices saying that the balance has shifted too much towards protection, effectively undermining the dissemination of new, applicable knowledge.”

I’ve excerpted a few key points from the Chapter as follows:

“• A farming community that finds a new way to keep plants safe from rodents is no less innovative than an employee of a company that invents a new strain of rice in a company lab.

• The extension of IPRs – specifically patents – towards rewarding innovation in the area of living organisms was only developed in the 1970s and the ‘real’ repercussions have yet to be fully understood.

• One important question from a human development viewpoint in relation to IPRs is whether the latter create incentives for agricultural research and technology transfer which support a diversity of farming models and are relevant to the situation of poor farmers, who need to improve their harvests but cannot afford huge investments. The industrial farming model prevalent in many developed countries has steadily been transposed to developing countries and LDCs.”

Coverage of the subject, with its complexity and interconnections, is exhaustive, and addresses the impacts of IPRs on farmers’ rights and practices; the growing concentration of economic power in sectors involving farm input suppliers; the privatization and patenting of agricultural innovation, and the diminished role of public sector R&D in agriculture.

The implications of the MDGs, PVP, CBD, TRIPS and ITPGRFA are well covered, and there are suggestions for future development, including national and community-based seed banks; stimulating collective participatory breeding; protecting and promoting the TK of indigenous communities, and exploring open source or cross-licensing structures.

In their conclusion, the authors observe that:

“The crucial balancing between access and incentives, as well as an acknowledgement of the various alternative options that should exist parallel to IPRs, is recognized in a recent report to the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (WIPO 2009, paras. 286–288). Such recognition ought to provide an opening for different approaches to IP legislation which take into account national circumstances, and not uniform, harmonized models based on the laws of developed countries.”

This book is an invaluable resource. I would add one critical factor – the need for a higher level of reporting on and dissemination of innovations that do work and the contributing success factors.  Leveraging these investments by enabling others to benefit is an important piece of the equation, and NGOs should not withhold what are, after all, IPGs.  A good example of sharing is the recently published The New Harvest – Agricultural Innovation in Africa, an invaluable record that may guide a new generation of innovators.

Post written by Peter Bloch