Sir, It is unjust and counter-productive for the rich countries of the North to insist that their existing rules on intellectual property rights (IPR) should be imposed on developing countries. The Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, is to be applauded for her initiative in setting up a high-powered commission to advise on how IPR could be used for the greater benefit of developing countries.
The commission recently held a two-day meeting at the Royal Society where the overwhelming view expressed was that the TRIPS protocol (the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) needs urgent revision.
Although it permits exceptions, it is based on the philosophy that "one size fits all". With developing countries facing food and water insecurities, pandemic diseases, lack of basic infrastructure and, in some cases, civil war, the imposition of TRIPS, which calls for rigorous IPR legislation, is an absurd use of scarce economic, political and social resources.
TRIPS must be amended, one option being that full compliance with its provisions is linked directly to economic development. This is, historically, what happened in Western countries. For example, for over 100 years the US resisted foreign pressure to alter its international copyright laws, in order to protect its own publishing industry.
A properly amended TRIPS will lead to a more stable world in which more of our fellow humans can enjoy the fruits of inventions and innovation which we, in the rich North, take as a given right.
The Royal Society
6-9 Carlton House Terrace
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