Something's Missing Here

28 September 2008

The first of the US Presidential Debates was held this weekend.  The debate's focus was "national security and foreign policy," which Jim Lehrer said included "global finance."  But what about the global IP issues?

Now, I didn't actually get to watch the debates.  I'm on the other side of the planet and my internet connection is too weak to support CNN's live stream.  It's possible that IP was touched on during the debates and just not mentioned by any of the internet sources I read, but I doubt it.

Why is IP a Foreign Policy Issue?
Perhaps the state of the economy has made topics like IP development look like non-issues, but one doesn't have to look far to see that America's position on IP is critical to the its future relations with foreign countries.  Each week, IP Think Thank posts a list of the top intellectual property news from around the world.  The length of this week's Global Week in Review General Edition shows that there is a lot happening.  A lot in which America is involved in policy decisions and sculpting the direction of IP.

Most notable in relation to foreign policy are the WIPO meetings, which include the WIPO General Assembly, the IP-5 (Patent Offices of US, Japan, Europe, Korea and China) meeting on harmonizing patent procedures, and a variety of committee meetings spanning issues in every topic of IP.  There's also the matter of the US Special 301 Report, which effects the US's trade policies.  This Report is directly related to trade sanctions placed on foreign countries.  Some claim these sanctions violate America's duties under other treaties and force other countries to change their domestic laws for the benefit of American special interest groups.  (See IP Justice.)

In addition to issues in which the government is already directly involved, there are organizations in America and other countries pushing for global reform of intellectual property laws.    An intellectual property expert group in Canada recently delivered a report on the bio-tech industry that encourages loosing of patents in relation to medicines.  Australia's innovation review urges changes in the requirements for issuing patents, dramatic adjustments the court process for infringement cases, and the opening up of the flow of information in society.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation is involved in a lawsuit demanding public access to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiations draft work.  ccInternational, a division of Creative Commons, is working to introduce creative commons license options to jurisdictions around the world.  These reforms have direct implications for every segment of American society.  There are also private organizations and lobby groups pushing for tighter IP laws.

So if the candidates were to debate IP issues, what should the people know?  Here's a few things:

  • WIPO's IGC committee has been discussing protection of Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Cultural Expressions, Expressions of Folklore and Genetic Resources for almost a decade.  Developing countries are pushing for strong protection in these areas.  What should America's position be on a treaty extending global rights to Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Expressions of Culture?
  • The domestic IP policies of many countries depends on their placement on the Special 301 Report.  The President has the ability to unilaterally impose trade sanctions on countries he feels provide inadequate protection for US IP.  How will you use this ability?
  • The five largest patent offices in the world are engaging in a series of meetings to reform their patent systems.  Additionally, Senator Jon Kyl recently introduced a patent reform bill in Congress.  (See Patent Docs for a report on the new bill.)  
  • Non-profit organizations such as EFF and Creative Commons urge for changes to intellectual property laws that will create a freer flow of information.  While at the same time groups like the RIAA and other Hollywood representatives are pushing for stricter laws protecting intellectual property.  Do you think changes are appropriate?  If so, what kinds of changes would you encourage?


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