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