Access to Knowledge Treaty

The A2K initiative is an effort to change the priorities of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to encourage it to pay more attention to the needs of developing countries, and balance the benefits of easier access to knowledge and knowledge-intensive products such as medicines and software, with the benefits for greater innovation of copyright, patents and trademarks.  The website brings together a group of international non-governmental organizations, governments, scholars, acticists and individuals which has been working on a proposed treaty.

I argued in an earlier paper that the intellectual property regime is increasingly unsuitable for balancing the needs to create incentives for innovation, and to ensure that as many people as possible have access to the benefits of that innovation once it occurs.  In the past, technology transfer from rich to poor has been an important mechanism to allow poor societies to "catch up" and so limit the growth of inequality; as patent and copyright laws have been extended and been applied more exhaustively, and as the importance of knowledge as a factor of economic production has increased, so the intellectual property system has made it harder for poor countries to keep pace with rich countries.   As I explain in my paper, this is not an argument against intellectual property per se, but rather a case for thinking more creatively about how we can create incentives for innovation while ensuring that we do not unnecessarily and ineffeciently exclude the majority of the world’s population from the benefits.

 

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