US Ambassador To The UN: Protecting Patents & Copyrights More Important Than Development

from the say-what-now? dept

The US's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Betty E. King, recently gave a press conference in Geneva to talk about a variety of issues. What caught our attention, not surprisingly, was the discussion on intellectual property issues, which seemed to raise a lot more questions than it answered. Towards the end of her talk, she basically complained about WIPO, and how various developing countries are hijacking WIPO to focus on "development," at the expense of things like patents and copyright. She says that she, and the US government, are pro development, but not if it comes at the expense of patents and copyrights.

Of course, that makes no sense. The whole point of patents and copyright is supposed to be to create incentives for development. So development should always be at the core of the discussion. It's not, as King implies, that the two should be in conflict. Instead, if the two are in conflict, it suggests that there's something wrong with the way our intellectual property laws are working. What's really scary is she seems to think that more and longer patents automatically means better results:
Now long before I got here the United States has been stationing its experts around the world to help more countries be better able to apply for patents. We have our patent officers in our Embassy in Egypt as well as in other places around the world, and that has worked because we have seen an increase in the number of patent applications from a broader range of countries. That is good. However, the group in Geneva seems hell-bent on shortening these patents and creating more exceptions.

My point is if you create too many exceptions to a rule, you may as well not have the rule.
The problem is that she doesn't seem to realize that those exceptions actually have been shown, time and time again, to improve overall development. Which is what she should be in favor of supporting. But, it quickly becomes clear that King is simply unfamiliar with the history of copyright or pretty much any of the details of how intellectual property works, when she makes the laughable claim that exceptions to copyright will mean we'll have no more books:
While we certainly want access to books for a lot of people around the world, I think denying the authors of these books their rights, or abrogating the rights of these authors, would mean that eventually we will never have a book.
Someone should send King a study on the history of copyright in the US, including the fact that, during its developmental stage, the US refused to respect the copyrights of any foreign book... and how, despite that, Charles Dickens made a ton of money in the US by using the cheap copies of his books that were abundant to fund lavish tours of the US which were quite profitable for him. There are ways other than copyright to make money. And there are many reasons, other than copyright, to write books. It's kind of scary when an official so high up in US government policy circles doesn't seem to know that.

Later, in the questions, a reporter goes back to King's statements about WIPO, and references how ACTA was done outside of WIPO. We've actually discussed this before, pointing out that the reason the US and a few other countries went outside of WIPO was because those countries were upset that WIPO was actually listening to countries like India and Brazil, and paying attention to the actual evidence that showed you could actually create more culture and more opportunities by pushing back on copyright expansionism. The reporter asks whether or not ACTA means that WIPO is becoming irrelevant, and she responds that basically if the "Development Agenda Group" keeps pushing that darned "development" angle over intellectual property rights, then it will "kill" WIPO:
I think the people at WIPO are aware that without successful conclusions to these longstanding negotiations the people who apply for patent protection may find ways around WIPO. That is obviously the sort of existential threat to WIPO. I think the Director General understands that very clearly. But we're also in an era where you have emerging economies that want to have their voices heard. It is important to note that the Development Agenda Group is led by Egypt, Brazil, India and Indonesia -- countries that themselves have patents to protect but also have thriving businesses in generic drugs.


But if we get to a system where the protections of patents are abrogated in the name of development then we certainly will kill that organization.
In other words, if these countries who are concerned about economic development don't get in line and accept draconian US patent and copyright laws that will significantly curtail development in those countries, then the US will move to shut down the venue in which they negotiate such things, and focus instead on agreements like ACTA that shut them out. How nice.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 12:57pm

    With the US making itself irrelevant by becoming the next greece. I don't think many countries are going to follow in the foot steps of US IP law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2010 @ 1:05pm

    Who said you had to understand anything at all to have political power? If anything, they seem to hire the most retarded people. At least that way they can claim to have excuses (we've seen this before .. oh we're outdated) for their epic failures... When will people wake up and get rid of those retards?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 1:11pm

    Thank you

    "Development Agenda Group" is going to be my next band's name.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Gabriel Tane (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 1:22pm


    I almost cried a bit on that one. This person is one of the the faces of our country to the world-at-large? I'm going to go drown my national identity in alcohol now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Designerfx (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 1:26pm


    considering what wikileaks set out I don't think any country wants to follow US IP law.

    I have always said it seems like the intent of the US is to cripple every other society by pushing things to their detriment/our advantage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2010 @ 1:41pm

    Abolishing IP is more important than big corporate profits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 1:49pm

    Re: Re:

    "I have always said it seems like the intent of the US is to cripple every other society by pushing things to their detriment/our advantage."

    Right now its "Business as usual" in washington. Businesses are trying to set themselves up in the most uncompetative way they can. Businesses are lobbying in the US for laws that make it an virtual impossibility to enter the market and compete. They are pushing for these same laws in other countries.

    The huge problem with that sort of monopolistic protectionism is tiny disruptive technologies often cause them to fail in big ways. Case in point. The TechDirt article from this morning on shooting a full length film on cell phones, and mix that with YouTubes opening up longer video uploads. It makes MySpace Music look like a kids toy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Steve R. (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 1:51pm

    Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

    The US Position on so-called intellectual property is following a traditional sociological curve. When "young" companies and countries tend to be innovative, aggressive, and not too concerned with the status-quo. As companies and society mature they begin to be more concerned with protecting what they have (property rights). At a certain point (an inflection point) is reached in the curve where "protection" outweighs "growth". Fat dumb and happy. I guess you could call that "old age". After reaching "old age", its all about using acquired "power" to prevent the upstarts from "stealing" what you have acquired. It seems that "old age" has descended on the US since the US is now more concerned with protecting its "turf" rather than promoting progress and free-trade.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2010 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The "War on Piracy" is analogous to all of these restrictive tactics in the digital era.

    All of these corporations and organizations are so used to the "magic bullet" response, where they just take down the offender and everything is fixed, that they have no clue what to do when the offenders happen to be the populace at large.

    Right now they're simply trying to suppress and restrict everyone, and scratching their heads when it fails to work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    monkyyy, Dec 20th, 2010 @ 2:34pm

    "But if we get to a system where the protections of patents are abrogated in the name of development then we certainly will kill that organization."


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Nick Dynice (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 3:01pm

    This is what next gen colonialism looks like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    cc (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Re:

    "the intent of the US is to cripple every other society by pushing things to their detriment/our advantage"

    I'm sorry to say that I believe you are correct in that assessment. What's worse, the measures taken to achieve that goal are extinguishing every last spark of innovation within the US itself, and reveal what those in power really think: that the US cannot keep up innovating at the same pace as the competition.

    It's a downward spiral, actually. IP is bringing in revenue (but killing innovation), so IP is being pushed around (as a result of lack of innovation).

    If you take this to its logical extreme, by outsourcing most manufacturing to places like India and China, the US may be becoming a nation of shareholders, pencil-pushers and toilet-cleaners! The complete reliance on copyrights and patents combined with an atrophic manufacturing sector makes for a disastrously precarious situation to be in -- should IP law somehow lose its legitimacy, the current system could collapse in on itself (i.e., it's another economic bubble waiting to burst!).

    How to save the economy? Gradually bring back in manufacturing, while reducing reliance on patents and copyrights. There is no other way I don't think.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Chris in Utah (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 7:25pm

    Truth in the presss

    "But we're also in an era where you have emerging economies that want to have their voices heard"

    Replace emerging with merging and you have the truth. Be free and wake up. Good day all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Paul Hobbs (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 8:20pm

    Re: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

    Did someone say Apple? They're shameless about stealing great ideas, but God forbid someone should "steal" theirs.

    Seems like one's propensity to litigate (or intimidate) is directly proportional to one's (financial) capacity to do so. When Jobs and Wozniak were struggling and broke, I bet they never even dreamed of suing a competitor (not that there were many competitors back then). Even when they started to enjoy success, their MO was to create and innovate, rather then stop and look around at who might be copying them. Now? Not so much. Sure they still (arguably) create and innovate, but they clearly have a whole team of lawyer-types on the lookout for anyone who might be "stealing" one of their ideas. Case in point: Apple recently challenged the new Woolworths logo.

    Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
    — Friedrich Nietzsche

    You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
    - Harvey Dent

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Paul Hobbs (profile), Dec 20th, 2010 @ 9:03pm

    Have things really improved?

    This is more a general observation than a comment on the actual post about the US Ambassador to the UN (although there is a connection).

    I always thought Dubya was a complete tool, and he set US relations with the rest of the world back a decade. However, he didn't accomplish this on his own - he simply isn't competent enough to have done it on his own. He was backed (or led?) by a whole administration which helped make the US very unpopular with the rest of us Earth-dwellers.

    Then along came the Messiah (Barack Obama, not the other one), and everyone thought, finally, the US has regained some sanity and we can be friends again. There was even a cool website saying just that.

    Alas, I think we may have celebrated too soon. I believe it was Emerson who said "Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying." In more recent years I have often heard Christians say things like "your actions speak so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying". For all the flowery speeches Obama gave leading up to the election, and especially in his victory speech, it seems to me that not much has changed, and in fact, things are arguably worse. Mind you, I don't think we can hold Obama solely responsible. I always thought, even before he was elected, that he was being set up to fail. The level of expectation was so huge, that it was virtually impossible for him to satisfy everyone (which perhaps is an indication of his naivete). As it is, even I am surprised at how little things have improved. I guess that shows just how intractable the Washington machine is - not even the Messiah can bend it to his will.

    What's the connection to the original post? If the US is going to recover its economic status and stability, I suspect one of the things it needs to do is become more competitive and re-discover some of the amazing innovation which was one of the defining characteristics of America in the early 20th century. And that won't happen if the US government and corporations collude to eliminate competition by "litigating them into oblivion". It's almost like they want to try out the tactic of "shock and awe" in the business arena. And let's face it, it's been soooo successful in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's bound to be equally successful in business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2010 @ 9:53pm

    OGA died sniff! sniff! am/2798

    Just because it was useless and costing more to Microsoft then doing nothing against piracy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 3:59am

    First the ridiculous response to Wikileaks, now shaking down developing countries for protection money. I'm ashamed of my government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Daemon_ZOGG (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 6:35am

    Patents and Copyrights...

    All patents and copyrights should follow the same path as CopyLeft and the GNU software licence. Share and share alike. Not as in free beer. But, free as in freedom and liberty. The current system only stifles innovation. }:P

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Freedom (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 6:48am

    US - WIPO - ACTA

    Well .... people should be concerned with developments at the multilateral level. When a specialized agency is being used by governments (politics), where WIPO is hiring govt. officials (as staff, politics), where the Director General is more concerned with 'infrastructure' (so-called modernizing the organisation with loads of IT databases, etc), and where he alienates developing countries nationals (politics/internal and external), where WIPO feels/acts as if it is a corporate structure (private and to a lesser degree public), where there is disdain for developing countries(by a large number of industrialized countries and to a certain degree the WIPO Administration) then you can be sure that WIPO will become less relevant in time. WIPO will act like a private entitity that will provide services: PCT, Madrid, Arbitration & Mediation, a new global copyright registration database (in creation), etc. If that is more important to countries than legal reform, substantive negotiations, etc. then so be it. However, if the multilateral system is in danger it is also because the WIPO Administration and to a smaller degree some of its Member States, corrupt the system. The US Ambassador is perhaps just giving a small warning, to industry, WIPO, and even countries themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    staff, Dec 21st, 2010 @ 8:28am

    confused yourself

    From the excerpt of the ambassador it sounds like she knows what she's talking about. If there are too many instances where patents will not be issued, or if the rights are diminished, it acts as a disincentive. No patents -no development. She's figured it out. When will you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Gabriel Tane (profile), Dec 21st, 2010 @ 9:56am

    Re: confused yourself

    Nooo... this is her quote:
    "But if we get to a system where the protections of patents are abrogated in the name of development then we certainly will kill that organization. "
    Patents are supposed to protect development... not protect holders from development.

    Again (and this is key) the whole purpose of a patent is development. If the actual purpose of the patent is used as the guide for what should be issued, it won't be a question of too many or too few being issued... the right ones will be issued.

    The only thing it seems she's figured out is that organizations that pay off our government want the patent system to protect their money and not the inventions or innovations it's supposed to. And now they want the whole world to do the same.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Ze Mane, Jan 6th, 2011 @ 1:27pm

    they removed the link to the ambassador's speech. wonder why?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Informed Counsel, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 3:56pm

    US Ambassador: Over-Focus On Development “Will Kill” WIPO

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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