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Wednesday, 24 August 2005

IP: A POLITICIAN'S VIEW


The IPKat received this from Chartered patent agent Michael Harman:

You may be interested in an article in The Times (12 August, page 19) by Michael Meacher (right), "My sadness at the privatisation of Iraq". Its main thrust is indicated by its subtitle "the US transnational companies are taking over - and they'll benefit for years to come". It is concerned with the orders enacted by the US proconsul, Paul Bremer (below, left), chief of the occupation authority. There several paragraphs refer to IP, the first of which reads:

"But what is remarkable about these laws is not only their overall degree of control but their far-reaching application. Order 81, for example, has the status of binding law over 'patent, industrial design, undisclosed information, integrated circuits and plant variety' - a degree of detailed supervision normally associated with a Soviet command-and-control economy".
I find this slightly surprising. I'm not sure which Treaties are involved, but there are very few countries which have not joined the PCT and I think that most countries have signed up to TRIPs, which probably covers most of the items listed. The US, which surely subscribes to most if not all of the items, would surely be surprised to learn that it is a Soviet-style command-and-control economy. I never took a great deal of interest in the USSR system, but my impression is that they tolerated rather than approved of patents; I do not know how far they also subscribed to the various other systems for protecting designs, integrated circuits, plant varieties, and so on. I think it is also arguable that the previous Iraqi economy had certain command-and-control aspects, whether or not Soviet-style. And I find it surprising that what Meacher acknowedges to be privatisation leads to a Soviet-style command-and-control economy. The article continues:
"While historically the Iraqi constitution prohibited private ownership of biological resources, the new US-imposed patent law introduces a system of monopoly rights over seeds. This is virtually a take-over of Iraqi agriculture.

The rights granted to US plant breeding companies under this order include the exclusive right to produce, reproduce, sell, export, import and store the plant varieties covered by intellectual property right for the next 20-25 years. During this extended period nobody can plant or otherwise use plants, trees or vines without compensating the breeder.

In the name of agricultural reconstruction this new law deprives Iraqi farmers of their inherent right, exercised for the past 10,000 years in the fertile Mesopotamian arc, to save and replant seeds. It enables the penetration of Iraqi agriculture by Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical and other corporate giants that control the global seed trade. Food sovereignty for the Iraqi people has therefore already been made near-impossible by these new regulations."
I suspect that there may be some casual readers who will read the last few sentences and not realize that they apply only to new varieties (leaving all existing varieties free) and presumably also only to varieties which are actually registered in Iraq under the new law.

Michael Harman comments: "It is usually gratifying to find politicians taking an interest in IP matters, but in this case I think it is a mixed blessing".

The IPKat agrees, but he is not surprised. In this era of information overload, politicians rarely read beyond the press releases of lobby groups and commit their intellectual resources to a genuine understanding of intellectual property issues. It is incumbent on this blog, and indeed on all of us as IP enthusiasts, to ensure that information about IP is clear, accessible and well-informed. Also, since individual bias and self-interest can never be eradicated, we should at least nail our colours to the mast and say who we are, and what out interest is, when explaining IP to others. If it is true that a rising tide raises all boats, then the gentle rise in the public's knowledge of IP issues will benefit even those who purport to represent them in Parliament and beyond.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Soviet Union had a dual system of inventors certificates and patents. The latter was a sop to western practices while the value of the former was a an interesting alternative never significantly explored in the West because of the damning USSR associations: it devalued a viable options for inventors.

Geeklawyer

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