Intellectual property (IP) rules
have far-reaching economic, social and environmental impacts.
While they are a tool for encouraging innovation, they also
limit access to cutting-edge information and ideas by awarding
exclusive rights to the generators of IP. Governments face the
challenge of providing IP protection, while preserving access
to new ideas and products, including medicines, educational
materials, as well as conservation of traditional knowledge
Developed countries make up the vast majority
of net exporters of IP, as IP rights are predominantly owned
by people and companies from these countries. In the past, governments
have been free to accede to IP treaties when they felt it was
in their national interest to do so. However, the WTO agreement
on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), adopted
as part of the Uruguay Round negotiations, marked a major change
by requiring all member countries, for the first time, to award
and enforce IP rights across all sectors. For this reason, governments
seek to balance private rights with public interests in a way
that is consistent with their respective national objectives
and development goals.
While the TRIPS Agreement established minimum
standards of IP protection for WTO members, free trade agreements
often include comprehensive chapters on IP that go well beyond
the TRIPS Agreement. Many argue that these "TRIPS-plus"
provisions ultimately reduce the opportunities to use flexibilities
and exceptions to safeguard public interests, such as health.
An important debate around these questions has
recently emerged in the World Intellectual Property Organization
(WIPO) in the context of the so-called "development agenda."
The seminar aimed to address some of the interests
that need to be balanced in today's knowledge-based economy
and explored ways that this might be accomplished.