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[Fsfe-france] Joseph Stiglitz critique les exces de la propriete intelle

From: Laurent GUERBY
Subject: [Fsfe-france] Joseph Stiglitz critique les exces de la propriete intellectuelle
Date: Thu, 18 Aug 2005 21:06:02 +0200

Via escape_l.


Published on TaipeiTimes

The wrongs in intellectual property rights
Intellectual property rights can, if too broadly defined, hinder 
scientific development and monopolize the market

By Joseph Stiglitz

Wednesday, Aug 17, 2005,Page 9

Last October, the General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property 
Organization (WIPO) decided to consider what a development-oriented 
intellectual property regime might look like. The move was little 
noticed, but, in some ways, it was as important as the World Trade 
Organization's (WTO) decision that the current round of trade 
negotiations be devoted to development. Both decisions acknowledge that 
the current rules of the international economic game reflect the 
interests of the advanced industrial countries -- especially of their 
big corporations -- more than the interests of the developing world.

Without intellectual property protection, incentives to engage in 
certain types of creative endeavors would be weakened. But there are 
high costs associated with intellectual property. Ideas are the most 
important input into research, and if intellectual property slows down 
the ability to use others' ideas, then scientific and technological 
progress will suffer.

In fact, many of the most important ideas -- for example, the 
mathematics that underlies the modern computer or the theories behind 
atomic energy or lasers -- are not protected by intellectual property. 
The growth of the "open source" movement on the Internet shows that not 
just the most basic ideas, but even products of enormous immediate 
commercial value can be produced without intellectual property

By contrast, an intellectual property regime rewards innovators by 
creating a temporary monopoly power, allowing them to charge far higher 
prices than they could if there were competition. In the process, ideas 
are disseminated and used less.

The economic rationale for intellectual property is that faster 
innovation offsets the enormous costs of such inefficiencies. But it
become increasingly clear that excessively strong or badly formulated 
intellectual property rights may actually impede innovation.

Monopolists may have much less incentive to innovate than they would if 
they had to compete. Modern research has shown that the great economist 
Joseph Schumpeter was wrong in thinking that competition in innovation 
leads to a succession of firms. In fact, a monopolist, once
may be hard to dislodge, as Microsoft has demonstrated.

Indeed, once established, a monopoly can use its market power to
competitors, as Microsoft so amply demonstrated in the case of the 
Netscape Web browser. Such abuses of market power discourage innovation.

Moreover, so-called "patent thickets" -- the fear that some advance
tread on pre-existing patents, of which the innovator may not even be 
aware -- may also discourage innovation. After the pioneering work of 
the Wright brothers and the Curtis brothers, overlapping patent claims 
thwarted the development of the airplane, until the US government 
finally forced a patent pool as World War I loomed.

The creation of any product requires many ideas, and sorting out their 
relative contribution to the outcome -- let alone which ones are really 
new -- can be nearly impossible.

Consider a drug based on traditional knowledge, say, of a herb well 
known for its medicinal properties. How important is the contribution
the US firm that isolates the active ingredient? Pharmaceutical 
companies argue that they should be entitled to a full patent, paying 
nothing to the developing country from which the traditional knowledge 
was taken, even though the country preserves the biodiversity without 
which the drug would never have come to market. Not surprisingly, 
developing countries see things differently.

Society has always recognized that other values may trump intellectual 
property. The need to prevent excessive monopoly power has led 
anti-trust authorities to require compulsory licensing (as the US 
government did with the telephone company AT).

Unfortunately, the trade negotiators who framed the 
intellectual-property agreement of the Uruguay trade round of the early 
1990s (TRIP's) were either unaware of all of this, or more likely, 
uninterested. I served on the Clinton administration's Council of 
Economic Advisers at the time, and it was clear that there was more 
interest in pleasing the pharmaceutical and entertainment industries 
than in ensuring an intellectual-property regime that was good for 
science, let alone for developing countries.

I suspect that most of those who signed the agreement did not fully 
understand what they were doing. If they had, would they have willingly 
condemned thousands of AIDS sufferers to death because they might no 
longer be able to get affordable generic drugs?

Intellectual property is important, but the appropriate intellectual 
property regime for a developing country is different from that for an 
advanced industrial country. The TRIP's scheme failed to recognize
In fact, intellectual property should never have been included in a 
trade agreement in the first place, because its regulation is 
demonstrably beyond the competency of trade negotiators.

Besides, an international organization already exists to protect 
intellectual property. Hopefully, in WIPO's reconsideration of 
intellectual property regimes, the voices of the developing world will 
be heard more clearly than they were in the WTO negotiations;
WIPO will succeed in outlining what a pro-developing intellectual 
property regime implies; and hopefully, WTO will listen. The aim of 
trade liberalization is to boost development, not hinder it.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is professor of 
economics at Columbia University. Copyright: Project Syndicate

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