Nobel Prize Winning Economist Says Non-US Countries Have Unique Opportunity To Reform Intellectual Property

from the go-for-it dept

For well over a decade, we’ve noted that Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz has been one of the many, many economists who are skeptical of the benefits of our current patent system, noting that it appears to do a lot more harm than good, both to the process of innovation and (importantly) to the wider distribution of the gains from innovation. He’s been particularly critical of pharmaceutical patents over the years. And, it appears that he may sense a somewhat unique opportunity to actually get countries around the world to actually rethink traditional patent and copyright regimes — in part because the US, under the Trump administration, is pulling back from various international agreements and fora.

Earlier this year, along with Dean Baker and Arjun Jayadev, Stigliz authored an interesting paper about ways to rethink innovation, intellectual property and development. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the paper, but I do agree with much of it — especially the presentation of the problems of today’s systems.

Today?s global intellectual property regimes have been strongly affected by the historical evolution of IPR in the United States and in the advanced industrialised countries over the last century. Certainly, the adoption of the World Trade Organization?s Trade Related Intellectual Property System (TRIPS) reflects the understanding of the management of intellectual and knowledge advancement that prevailed in the last quarter of the previous century and the structure of economic power at that moment.

Perhaps somewhat ironically the world has coalesced on a set of institutions to manage knowledge advancement just as advanced industrialised economies have begun to run up against the severe impediments that this system entails – a system that they thought had been designed by and for themselves. Nowadays, it is widely recognised that the management of innovation in countries like the US has been sub-optimal and led to a situation that is increasingly litigious and plagued by conflicts. In fields such as information technology, a whole set of weak patents and an epidemic of over-patenting has made subsequent innovation difficult and has eroded some of the gains from knowledge creation (see Bessen and Meurer, 2008 among others). Moreover, in some areas, such as in pharmaceuticals, ever-stronger IP protections has not necessarily led to an increase in the discovery of new chemical entities (see Dosi and Stiglitz, 2014). Rather, the demands and needs of different industries become more opposed, leading to serious concerns for policy makers. There is a shrinking of the knowledge commons as even publicly funded and promoted innovation is privatised, thereby reducing both equity and efficiency. There is no agreement on what exactly ought to be done, but it is certainly recognised that the current system is not satisfactory for developed countries.

As you can tell from that snippet from the intro, there’s a lot of concern about how US-driven “harmonization” of (mainly) patent rights has done more harm than good — especially in believing in a one-size-fits-all approach. However, the paper notes that it’s difficult to move away from the older setup, since so many countries were pressured into joining TRIPS (and some other international trade agreements).

The whole paper is worth reading (and it’s embedded below, based on the Creative Commons license on the paper — though, oddly, they never designate which CC license is actually being used, but I believe our posting here would be covered by all CC licenses). But beyond the paper, it appears that Stiglitz is sensing an unfortunate, if unique, opportunity to actually make other countries consider moving away from the old patent regimes: The administration of Donald Trump. Again, while the core concepts of intellectual property maximalism didn’t necessarily originate with the United States (and in some areas, we’ve actually been laggards), there’s no denying that over the last few decades, the US has mainly been the strongest supporter of putting such rules into all sorts of international trade agreements (or using those agreements to expand patent and copyright laws even beyond what we currently have in the US).

However, with a President who is extremely skeptical of international trade agreements (even if for the wrong reasons), Stiglitz has decided that it’s a potential opportunity. His recent comments in South Africa make that clear. After criticizing Trump, he went on to note the opportunity:

He said developing countries must use the Trump administration as an opportunity to realise that the US hasn?t played the global leadership role it claims to have and take the initiative to negotiate new systems of globalisation, such as reforming intellectual property laws that benefit large corporates at the expense of social welfare.

Speaking out in South Africa is timely, since the country is considering a new patent law that would increase access to drugs that have been cost-prohibitive due to patents.

Stiglitz… welcomed South Africa?s draft changes and urged the country to continue working on the paper. ?Any intellectual property regime has to get a balance on innovation on the one hand and dissemination on the other,? he said.

?You should be very concerned about anything that impedes competition,? said Stiglitz, warning South Africa and other developing countries of assisting corporations like big pharmaceutical companies to establish monopolies that don?t benefit local health systems or economic growth.

Stiglitz disputed claims that stringent intellectual property laws are necessary for innovation.

?There?s a whole history of using intellectual property law to try to squelch innovation,? he said.

While I hope I’m wrong, I’m skeptical that most countries will be willing to embrace a total rethink of intellectual property systems and the problems they cause for innovation — but it will be worth paying attention to see if other countries do start pushing back on these outdated regimes.

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Comments on “Nobel Prize Winning Economist Says Non-US Countries Have Unique Opportunity To Reform Intellectual Property”

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Anonymous Coward says:

"take the initiative to negotiate new systems of globalisation,"

… states that the goal of Stiglitz is MORE globalism, so the clause: “such as reforming intellectual property laws that benefit large corporates at the expense of social welfare” can be read two ways. I’m pretty sure that Stiglitz is slyly writing for two audiences (the way They do): on surface to fool the unwary into believing he’s for “social welfare”, when actually wants “laws TO benefit large corporations”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "take the initiative to negotiate new systems of globalisation,"

"You should be very concerned about anything that impedes competition," — Starting with the very existence of The Rich and their global corporations! You cannot compete with The Rich; from birth, they’re given advantages that you nor your grand-children will ever achieve while The Rich control the system. America was founded by throwing off the rule of inherited tyrants. France achieved liberty well enough with the guillotine, while British serfs still bow to the same family of feudal tyrants that claimed Americans were their property.

In short, any "reform" or "thinking" that doesn’t first and foremost reduce power of The Rich is simply pointless drivel.

Now, what has my rant to do with patents? — Little directly! It’s just a vehicle for my views, just as Stiglitz and Masnick write only to carry globalist views. Note that Masnick’s headline first attempts to establish "authority" of a globalist economist sheerly for his being awarded a "Prize" by the globalists! They want you to believe all is independent and honest, but it’s all just ONE WORLD propaganda.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: "take the initiative to negotiate new systems of globalisation,"

just as Stiglitz and Masnick write only to carry globalist views

(dons tinfoil hat…)

Tell us…

  • If YOU are not a globalist, then why are you posting on a site you consider to be shilling for globalists?
  • Why are you doing so using a global computer network, the ultimate expression of globalization? While using international standards like TCP/IP, UTF-8 and HTML?
  • What non-globalist brand of computer and monitor are you using? What OS and browser?
  • Stiglitz argues against the current globalist IP system. Masnick and Techdirt frequently argue against IP maximalism, ISDS and other globalist trends. Why are YOU trashing their opinions?

Really, if you want us to find globalists behind every tree, aren’t YOU the prime suspect here?

Mattheus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "take the initiative to negotiate new systems of globalisation,"

My understanding is that “globalism” is distinct from “global” things like the Internet. “Globalism” a political/economic strategy for increasing corporate/banking/military hegemony. The UN is a “globalist” organization, as is the IMF, World Bank, etc. because they are global power players (funded by a few powerful interests like the US).

Things like the internet, or Bitcoin, are anti-globalist because they reduce the power of centralized (and global in reach) power structures.

Just my take on it.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: "take the initiative to negotiate new systems of globalisation,"

It’s Scraptivism, Roger; nobody’s paying attention to Blue on his web spaces so he/she/it comes here to TD in a desperate attempt to gain attention. However, to my vast amusement this is backfiring big time because you keep owning him, which the audience he’s trying to reach see.

So basically instead of winning people over to his points of view, he’s winning them over to ours by getting owned by us.

crade (profile) says:

“While I hope I’m wrong, I’m skeptical that most countries will be willing to embrace a total rethink of intellectual property systems and the problems they cause for innovation”

True, but on the other hand a lot of the really bad I.P. policy in these agreements is being forced down countries’ throats by the U.S. Now we should at least be able to craft agreements without causing current policies to get worse and/or further hamstring countries’ abilities to individually come up with better practices.

ECA (profile) says:


No nation has the need to acknowledge the CR of any other nation. AND we/USA DONT..
UNLESS its from a USA corp that resides in this nation, as well as the OTHER nation concerned.

Its our Corps that PUSH CR around the world to little or no degree of well being.
The Asia community has copied Everything, and improved much of it that WE SEND to them to manufacture for Us.. AND ITS CHEAPER..

For some odd reasons, the prices in the USA are HUGE compared to the Equal products in other nations..
They say its the wages..ONLY those wages at the TOP of the corp. Many corps are about 5-10 people sending Designs to China, receiving the goods and having them Shipped.. What Overhead??


39 days and counting

and star trek the original series in Canada enters the public domain…..almost nothing can stop it technically but i bet a lawsuit from paramount and cbs ….whom have deep pockets….BUT dong so will just increase hatred of why copyrights are bad OT begin with and put pressure not to have them change in fact might even …..well lets see

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

This could be Trump's Magna Carta

If I remember my history King John of England was a bit of a jackass and let the country rot without leadership, leading to a revolution of baronies (The First Barons’ War), at which point John signed the Magna Carta at swordpoint, a moment taught to Americans that sometimes good things come out of tyrannical regimes.

I’m sure if the rest of the world reformed IP to undo Disney’s mess and assure that temporary monopolies have short terms (say five years), the US would sign on in about twenty years when its own industries were clearly falling behind.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: This could be Trump's Magna Carta

Johnnie boy was treating Merrie Englande as his own private piggy bank and demanding that everyone play along. The barons were having none of it. There were several Magna Cartas in the end because he’d sign, go back on his word, the barons would rebel, rinse & repeat.

Meanwhile, his brother Richard the Lionheart was all about teh chivalry, etc., completely uninterested in running the country, which left Johnnie in charge. It’s a great story, and the truth is a lot more fun than the fiction.

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