Duke Hosts Major Conference on International Intellectual Property

Jerome Reichman
Duke Law Professor Jerome Reichman, co-organizer of the conference, outlined the conference topics in his welcoming address

Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain recently hosted a major law and economics conference on “International Public Goods and Transfer of Technology under a Globalized Intellectual Property Regime.” This conference, April 4-6, focused the attention of almost 70 leading economic and legal experts on the bigger picture that is emerging from the strengthening and expansion of international intellectual property rights since the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of 1994.

In recent years, intellectual property-developing industries have pushed for stronger and more harmonized intellectual property rights within the global economy. While this drive seeks to foster greater innovation, many have raised concerns that it will actually retard economic and technological development by hindering future innovation and healthy competition, shrinking the public domain and impeding international access to essential goods and services covered by intellectual property. Patents may raise the costs of medicines, copyrights may affect the access of libraries and students to new information, and private ownership of new seed varieties may reduce biodiversity, even as these policies raise incentives for innovation. A “one size fits all” model of intellectual property rights may particularly harm developing countries, as well as small and medium-sized firms and researchers everywhere.

“Thus far, global intellectual property rights have been pushed forward with insufficient attention to the balance of public and private interests that traditionally underlies both intellectual property rights and the national systems of innovation they support,” explained Jerome Reichman, Duke Law professor and co-organizer of the conference. “This was the first major conference to examine, from both a legal and economic perspective, how a globalized intellectual property regime can take account of the larger public interest, minimize social costs, and enhance benefits to all countries.”

Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa, Professor and Director of the Masters Program on Science and Technology Policy and Management at the University of Buenos Aires, spoke about technology transfer to developing countries

Among the conference participants were leading economists, political scientists, trade specialists, and legal scholars, in addition to representatives of such organizations as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), World Trade Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, World Bank, Consumer Project on Technology, Quaker United Nations Office, and South Centre. “The conference brought together an extraordinary roster of experts, and the level of interest and participation was exceptionally keen,” said Reichman. The conference also attracted a distinguished group of attendees, including eminent scholars as well as representatives of organizations such as WIPO, World Bank, United Nations Development Program, Industry Canada, Social Science Research Council, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Microsoft Corporation, and Syngenta Foundation.

Conference participants both refined existing approaches and delivered fresh ideas on how to establish a workable balance between public and private interests in a wide and crucial range of areas, including health, agriculture, competition, technology transfer, development and culture. The conference generated important insights into topical issues, including how the global intellectual property system can encourage drug companies to develop new drugs while also providing these drugs to the citizens of developing countries at affordable costs; how to improve and sustain the transnational flow of scientific and technical information necessary for research and technological development; and how developing countries might commercially benefit from traditional knowledge and cultural products without unduly restricting access to communal resources.

The conference ultimately confirmed that intellectual property is increasingly an international rather than a national issue, and that international intellectual property policy will determine the ability of developing countries to further technical progress, economic growth and welfare, as well as the continuing ability of firms in developed countries to innovate in a more protective global environment.

Suzanne Scotchmer
Suzanne Scotchmer, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, discussed how foreign rules can effect domestic protections

The papers from the conference will be published in a major volume. “The conference papers are likely to leave a significant mark on literature in this field, and they will provide an important resource for scholars, activists and policymakers who will try to better inform debates about globalized intellectual property with the needs of the larger public interest,” Reichman said. “The ultimate objective is to contribute to the development of a global intellectual property regime that would promote innovation, technology transfer, cultural industries and sustainable development without impoverishing the public domain.”

The conference was organized by Keith Maskus, professor and chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and former lead research economist at the World Bank, and Reichman, the Bunyan S. Womble Professor of Law at Duke Law School. The conference was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke, the Center for the Public Domain, and the McGuire Center for International Studies at the University of Colorado.