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View Full Version : the intellectual property monster rears its ugly head in India

2005-03-26, 04:18
India is in the final stages of revising its patent law to conform with the demands of being a World Trade Organization member. According to this list (http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/org6_e.htm) it has been a member since 1995-01-01. There was a grace period given to them after joining the WTO to modify their laws. The United States was also required to modify some of its laws due to its membership in the WTO, which it joined at the same time as India. Because of WTO obligations, the DMCA 1998 (http://www.eff.org/IP/DMCA/hr2281_dmca_law_19981020_pl105-304.html) law was passed, which curtailed the digital rights of Americans.

Issues of trade tend to be handled by WTO, while issues of intellectual property and copyright are handled by the World Intellectual Property Organization. I was wondering what kind of affiliation these two organizations have with each other, and it appears to be one based on a declaration of consensus such as what is written in their TRIPS agreement (http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/wtowip_e.htm). Being a WTO member therefore means having to follow the guidelines of WIPO. A grace period is given for members after joining WTO to change their intellectual property laws to conform to WIPO standards. From this page (http://www.inta.org/info/basics_treaties.html) is a description of the grace period given to members joining WTO:

TRIPS provides for different transitional periods for the application of the provisions of the Agreement, depending on the level of development of the country in question. For developed countries, the transitional period is one year from the date of entry into force of the Agreement, for developing countries and any country undergoing structural reform in its intellectual property system the transitional period is five years, and for the least developed countries the transitional period is eleven years.

So what does WTO do and how does it affect people globally? Here I will try to separate out the trade issues from the patent issues. When it comes to trade there have been problems with protectionism, where governments put tariffs on products, subsidize industries, or manipulate their currencies in such a way that they are not fairly competitive on the global scale. Of course there are so many variables that it would be hard to know what it means to be fairly competitive, because comparing one country to another would be like comparing apples to oranges. Any country which signs onto the WTO agrees to arbitrate all trade disputes through the WTO. Generally this would favor countries with a global presence, who are trying to sell their products in the markets of foreign countries.

By far the people who benefit the most from free trade as envisioned by WTO are the global company owners, who can move their companies to whatever country allows them to exploit the workers the most. The employees of companies which sell products globally will see a benefit from free trade as well. Also the customers may benefit, by having their choice of products from the global market. The people who are hurt are the workers, who see their jobs sent overseas to the lowest bidders. Some argue that what is lost in a country with wealthy workers is gained in a country with poor workers, making it overall a fair exchange. But the loss for wealthy workers is always larger than the gain for poor workers, or otherwise companies would have no reason to go through the expensive process of moving their manufacturing location. If companies had no concern over the costs of employee wages they would prefer to stay in the countries with wealthy workers, where the large market of their product also tends to be and where the skill level and quality of the workers tends to be higher.

On the issue of intellectual property and copyright, there is no global balancing that can be said to occur as there is said to be with free trade. The ownership of ideas by a few people is used to control the knowledge and information that the majority of people can use. The close relationship between WTO and WIPO is ironic, because WTO endorses free trade, while WIPO endorses the restriction of the free exchange of knowledge. The stance of WIPO creates a monopoly on knowledge and information, which restricts freedom.

The whole notion of freedom is very interesting, because while many "free market" advocates claim to believe in eliminating government interference in the market place, they are opposed to the elimination of patents and copyrights.

What is happening in India is that they are changing their patent law so that both the product itself is patented rather than just the manufacturing process being patented. It used to be easy to create generic drugs there because only the manufacturing process was patented, thus allowing one to slightly alter the manufacturing process and supply a generic drug. Now that the drug itself will be patented it will not be possible to create a generic drug. This means that drug prices will dramatically rise for those former consumers of generic Indian drugs, who will now have to buy their drugs from the original manufacturers at full market price. We'll be seeing some nice public relations gestures from pharmaceutical manufacturers about how they're going to give discounts to poor countries, but they will be token gestures and in fact it will be a common thing to have the poor and sickly paying ten times as much as before for their drugs and treatment. That means many of them won't be able to afford it anymore and will have to live miserably or die instead.

We've seen how harsh and ugly the notion of intellectual property has been used against filesharers, by opening them to all sorts of attacks by the record companies because they shared their music with their friends. Once again the monster of intellectual property is lifting its ugly head by dramatically increasing the treatment costs for poor people.

Who benefits from the notions of intellectual property, patent, and copyright? The advocates of intellectual property will say that if people are not financially rewarded for their creations then they will have no incentive to create. First of all that notion is wrong because people feel rewarded through many other means than financial ones; having a feeling of accomplishment of good service, or prestige. Perhaps in the dull creative environment of pharmaceutical patents there would be less development without the financial incentives, though it is not an unsolvable problem because the government can fund research into drug development. But for music and art I would have to disagree, because people in those fields are driven by their passions.

Intellectual property always deprives the public domain of owning and exchanging ideas and knowledge. If things don't enter the public domain then they have no value to mankind. This was expressed well by the words of Neil Armstrong when he first stepped on the moon: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The advocates of intellectual property are all in it for purely selfish reasons and hope to cash in on or rest on their laurels. Though the intellectual property fanboys will deny it to the end, the notion of intellectual property does not benefit the public. It only benefits the group of people who claim to own it.

We've come a long way in human history in that royalties and dictatorships as forms of government are becoming things of the past. The light of liberty giving power to the people in forming their governments is encouraging. But with knowledge there is still no democratic control by the people, and the system is still much like royalty, dictatorship, or oligarchy. The next great revolution that will occur in human history will be the democratization of knowledge and the abolishment of the notion of intellectual property. The information must be set free.