Book Reviews: Future Reviews and The Making of the TRIPS agreement

Future Books Reviews:
With Jeremy's retirement, please note that I am now the key point of contact for IPKat book reviews. (Contact details here.) 

Personal insights from the Uruguay Round negotiations
Published by WTO, 2015, Edited by Jayashree Watal and Antony Taubman

If you wanted to be the fly on the wall during the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) negotiations, now's your chance. An anthology of writings from participants in the process, each chapter of this book tells a personal account of the TRIPS negotiations. 

The 19 contributors, four women and 15 men from primarily high income and upper middle income countries, have devoted their careers to IP.  The authors take pains to emphasise a nuanced view to the goal of a balanced, international framework for IP policy making. Instead of characterising international trade negotiations as a zero-sum game, the book seeks to provide a personal account of the policy environment in which negotiations took place.  

The authors appear irked by the post-1995 characterisation portrayal of TRIPS negotiations as being dominated by the developed-developing divide.  In the introduction, Antony Tabuman, Director at WIPO, sets the stage by suggesting that TRIPS has proven itself as a flexible agreement suitable to the diverse needs of its signatories.  The theme continues throughout the book. For example, Jayashree Watal, former Indian negotiator, argues, the final agreement is a, "genuine product of a multilateral negotiation, with concomitant checks and balances."  

The chapters tell the tales of the role of trust and the complex, seemingly impossible task of reaching
You have to trust the cats...
Snow leopard cubs, Andrew Halliday
an international agreement. Such a task was a huge step up from the pre-WTO General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). As John Gero, former Canadian negotiator, puts it, going from "square pegs in square holes ... [to being] required to deal with circles and octagons."  Side meetings, unilateral discussions, international trips, late nights, and chats over coffees meant that staying in the loop, in the "horse-trading," was hard work. 

Another common theme is the debate on Geographical Indications (GI.) GI arguments did not run along a developed-developing split, but an old-world versus new-world split as discussed by Thu-Lang Tran Wasescha, former Deputy Head of the Swiss team.  Mogens Peter Carl, former Chief Negotiator for Europe, sums up the Europe versus ROTW discussion:
"Suffice it to say that the controversy, for the Europeans at least, came to be seen as the fight of the small against the big producers, of traditional methods against industrial processes, even of “good food and drink” against what in French is called malbouffe (“junk food” would be the closest translation). To my counterparts, it became a political headache because Europe was trying to obtain a roll-back of existing (ab)uses of European origin appellations, or “usurpations”, as we would somewhat poetically refer to them. This would have compelled producers using such names in those countries to abandon their use and adopt other ways of distinguishing their products."
Samantha with Zelo Pizza, rberteig
The book also contains critical reflections.  Thomas Cottier, former Swiss negotiator, argues that, "the process failed to address the problem of maximal standards and to properly balance exclusive rights beyond fair use and compulsory rights," which opened doors for the subsequent expansion of rights. Inevitably, circumstances meant that smaller countries naturally had smaller delegations as discussed by Antonio Gustavo Trombetta, former Argentinian negotiator.  A number of authors lament the rise of trolls. A.V. Ganesan, former Chief Negotiator for India, highlights that the balance of IP protection and other policy objectives remains a challenge. 

While I found the book insightful and excellent context for today's policy debates (TPP and TTIP?), I couldn't get a particular phrase out of my head -- 'History is written by the victors.' In taking such pains to emphasis the process was balanced, the book highlights how imbalanced negotiations are perceived to be. The limited diversity of the contributors doesn't help. That said, it would have been very difficult for the WTO to do otherwise. 

This would be a useful text for policy makers, lobbyists, TRIPS enthusiasts, academics and students. There isn't an index, but the pdf is searchable.  The book is available in pdf for free, or printed (weighing 0.85 kg) for CHF 70. It is available in English, French and Spanish.

Crucially missing from the book is what type of cheese they ordered on their pizza during those all-nighters. Gorgonzola or Italian blue cheese? 
Book Reviews: Future Reviews and The Making of the TRIPS agreement Book Reviews: Future Reviews and The Making of the TRIPS agreement Reviewed by Nicola Searle on Monday, December 07, 2015 Rating: 5


  1. TRIPS was essentially an agreement between the developed world and developing world, where the developed world would be allowed patents in developing world territories and means to enforce them (to the detriment of local R&D) and in turn there would be technology transfer to the developing world. This second part has not happened and that is the real failure of TRIPS.

  2. No, TRIPS was essentially a side agreement to a multilateral free trade agreement, ensuring that the free passage of goods and services should not be encumbered by border controls and restrictions based on massive differences in IP protection and enforcement. If you ignore that basic fact, you will never be able to see TRIPS in its context. It may not be an ideal agreement, but if you don't understand the whole you'll never get the details, either. And given the huge amount of critical literature from the academic establishment it is actually quite refreshing that the negotiators and members of the secretariat finally get to tell their side of the story.


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