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International commission chaired by Law Professor John H. Barton releases report on intellectual property Rights in developing countries
Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, an independent task force established and financed by the British government, and chaired by Law School Professor John H. Barton, released a report on Thursday offering dozens of recommendations for bringing intellectual property protection into balance with the goal of reducing poverty in developing countries.
The overarching theme of the report, Integrating Intellectual Property Rights and Development Policy, is that the world's intellectual property rights system needs to take account of development concerns and that the present arrangement often costs more than the benefits it produces for the poorest nations. In addition to highlighting ways that it and other international arrangements can be more friendly to the Third World, the report also suggests that developing countries be given more time to adhere to the First World's IP regimes.
A case in point is patenting in agricultural biotechnology. While most developed countries permit this, the report recommends that the poorest countries, at the very least, should restrict such patenting. And the report adds that developing nations can do this and still be in compliance with the Uruguay Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, which developing nations are supposed to have implemented by 2006.
The report suggests that poor nations have not been well advised on the flexibility that they have in enacting copyright and patent laws, and that they do not necessarily have to use the United States and Western Europe as models. "Many developing countries are not aware of the options they have under these rules," says Barton, the George E. Osborne Professor of Law. The commission believes that developing nations still need to adopt IP regimes, but not the cookie-cutter approach that has been followed.
Critics argue that loosening such rules will undermine the spread of new technology. The corporate giant Monsanto, for example, refuses to sell certain of its patented bioengineered cottonseeds in India, out of concern that Indian law allows them to be replicated. This business perspective heavily influenced the trade talks in Uruguay, but the evidence that Barton has helped to marshal reveals that a rigid global standard actually hinders technological growth in the Third World. The report points out that the United States in the 19th century, while it was developing into the most technologically advanced nation in the world, did not play by Europe's intellectual property rules (printers, for example, were permitted to copy freely foreign books and sell them throughout the country). Similarly, South Korea and Taiwan, during their growth years, had few restrictions on producing knock-offs of imported high-tech items.
The recent scandals involving the unaffordably high prices of patented AIDS drugs -- while the disease reached epidemic proportions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America -- have already changed the way the rules are followed. A consensus has recently emerged that in the event of medical crises, patents should be waived, and countries encouraged to buy cheaper generic versions of those same drugs. Now Barton and his colleagues on the commission, comprised of an Argentine, a top Indian government official, a leading British barrister and two British scientists, are essentially recommending that the envelope be pushed a bit further.
Barton has been an arbitrator in disputes among Canada, Mexico and the United States over dumping; overseen studies for the World Bank on intellectual property and biotechnology; and researched the legal implications of the trade of genetically engineered rice. Since being invited to join the commission and serve as its chairman 18 months ago by Clare Short, British Member of Parliament and Secretary of State for International Development, he has overseen the work on the commission's study. This has included running a series of workshops with leading scholars; reviewing working papers; and interviewing top officials in at least seven nations as well as lawyers from the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Trade Organization and the European Union, not to mention representatives of business groups and nongovernmental organizations. (The report, titled Integrating Intellectual Property Rights and Development Policy, is available at http://www.iprcommission.org.)
Biography of John H. Barton, George E. Osborne Professor at Law, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA
A member of the Stanford Law School faculty since 1969, Professor John H. Barton has studied and consulted on international patent law for more than 20 years, working with organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank, the international agricultural research community, and the trade and public goods working groups of the current Commission on Health and Development. His teaching and scholarly work, as well as participation in a current U.S. National Research Council Committee on Intellectual Property Rights and an earlier similar committee on genetic resources, have earned him a broad technical background in patent law and its reform, particularly with regard to its role in international trade, in the balancing of intellectual property law and antitrust law, in genomics and in genetic resources.
A co-director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science & Technology, Barton advises the World Bank and international agricultural research institutions on biotechnology patent issues. He was chair of the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council, and has been a member of the National Academy Panel on Genetic Diversity as well as the National Institutes of Health Working Group on Research Tools. He publishes on such topics as biodiversity and intellectual property rights as they relate to innovation.
Barton has chaired or been a member of a number of national and international committees in areas relevant to International Property Rights, including the National Academies Committee on Intellectual Property Rights in the Knowledge-Based Economy; the National Research Council Committee on Intellectual Property Rights; the World Health Organization Commission on Macroeconomics and Health Working Groups on International Public Goods and on International Trade; the Food and Agriculture Organization Panel on Animal Biodiversity Conservation (Chair), among many others.
Barton's recent consulting assignments have included a study of the impact of genomics patents on medical research (2000-01); an examination of technology licensing in international arbitration (2000-01); assistance to the Federal Trade Commission on the Intel antitrust settlement (1999); analysis of international trade patterns in genetically modified agriculture for the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations (1999); an intellectual property study for the World Bank (1998); and a Brazilian biotechnology study for the World Bank (1996).
Barton has published numerous books and articles on intellectual property rights and related subjects. Recent and forthcoming publications discuss TRIPS and the trade in information-intensive products; biotechnology and patents in the developing world; intellectual property, biotechnology and international trade; limits on genomic patents; reforming the patent system; and patents and competition.