Intellectual Property Rights, the WTO and Developing Countries: The TRIPS Agreement and Policy Options

Article excerpt

Carlos M. Correa Intellectual Property Rights, the WTO and Developing Countries: The TRIPS Agreement and Policy Options Zed Books, London and New York, 2000, pp. 265 ISBN 1-856-49737-2 (pbk) L16.95 ISBN 1-856-497364 (hbk) L45.00

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) established international `minimum standards' on copyright, trademarks, patents, trade secrets and so on. Retaliative action, including such punitively protectionist measures as the implementation of export quotas, against states that breach its terms are now enshrined in international law. According to Correa, a concern with four developments motivated the agreement's implementation:

1. The growing importance of cutting-edge technologies underlying international competition.

2. The increasing difficulty of maintaining exclusive knowledge about such new technologies, particularly software and integrated circuits, partly-and ironically-as a consequence of previous developments in the field.

3. A process of reductions in protectionist legislation, facilitating the direct exportation of high-technology products and reducing the need to exploit patented inventions locally.

4. Falling competitiveness of us companies, understood as being the result of the increasing strength of the Asian NICs and of overseas piracy and counterfeiting.

The background to the agreement, therefore, is more a function of us protectionism than of a desire to protect the intellectual 'rights' of scientists and other `knowledge workers'. This would appear to be merely the latest permutation of a traditional theme: the extent to which `national interests' are served by opening up the barriers to `free trade'. An issue that needs addressing, therefore, is the extent to which the TRIPS agreement can be understood in class terms. Are the interests of national capital in developed nations and/or transnational corporations being asserted against workers in the form of developments in international law? And, furthermore, to what extent might cooperation and collaboration between knowledge workers and others be genuinely subversive of those interests?

Correa's text fails to address questions of this kind. …