Monday, May 02, 2005

War Over Intellectual Property

Mark Schultz discusses a very important concern, i.e. a movement internationally to weaken protection for intellectual property rights.
Proponents of this new international IP [intellectual property] agenda are deeply skeptical of the benefit of intellectual property rights. They assert that access to health care and knowledge are fundamental human rights. As they see it, private ownership of intellectual property violates these rights, making drugs too expensive and interfering with obtaining knowledge and educating people in poor countries.
If the concern is truly with the poor in developing economies, then weakening protection for intellectual property is likely to be the wrong move. In order to accomplish the development of new technology the appropriate economic incentives have to exist. If an individual cannot rely on being able to capture the benefits of developing new goods and services, then the incentives to undertake the requisite risky investment activities will be missing. Protection of intellectual property rights is the means of providing and of protecting the incentives to develop new goods and services.
Having a heart for the poor does not call for getting rid of intellectual property rights. We should stop treating the people of the developing world as victims, forever at the mercy of corporations and more developed countries. Yes, we should find ways to help the poor with the needs of the moment. That short term poverty, however, does not mean that they cannot help themselves to prosper. But to do so, they need the same institutions that have helped the people of developed nations to fulfill their potential: The rule of law and private property rights, including intellectual property.

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