Politics, whether domestic or international, affect every area of our lives. This is even true of intellectual property (IP) – many laws, regulations, and international agreements govern the use and protection of IP and IP rights. There are several ways by which global politics have influenced IP policies today. Of course, such policies may change at any moment due to the fluid, ever-changing nature of international politics.
The following are some of the ways by which global politics have influenced intellectual property policies around the world.
The Political History of IP Rights
Intellectual property rights are inherently political in nature. This is due to how they first came about. In the earliest days of their existence, a great debate raged about IP rights. Some considered IP to be a form of private property which would be fully owned and protected by an individual. Others regarded IP as knowledge to which access should be provided by governments for citizens. As a compromise between these two ideas, the concept of IP rights emerged and has remained to this day.
When governments first introduced IP rights, they did so with the following ideas in mind: 1) creators would be able to possess a lasting monopoly over their own works which could be assigned to others for protective purposes, and 2) after the expiry of the monopoly’s duration, the works would enter the public sphere and can be reproduced, edited, or even imitated for public consumption and knowledge. The strength of a government’s stance on IP rights determines the power of IP rights in any country.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
WIPO is the world’s leading organization for intellectual property. It is one of the 15 specialized agencies operating as part of the United Nations. WIPO was created as a result of the 1967 Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization. It protects global IP rights by working with not only organizations, but governments around the world as well.
WIPO has influenced many governments to sign various treaties for the protection of IP rights. Today, it administers 26 treaties spanning topics such as IP protection, the global protection system, and classification. This high level of protection that WIPO affords would not be possible without international political cooperation; therefore, political agreement can be said to benefit IP rights and their owners all over the planet.
How Governments May Use and Misuse IP Laws
Governments all over the world make use of IP laws, ostensibly to guard the interests of IP rights owners. Intellectual property laws differ from country to country; Malaysia’s intellectual property laws differ from those of other countries. On the surface, IP laws should not be abused. They are important tools which serve to benefit those innovators and creators who push industry forward and drive development and ultimately economic growth in a country. When used appropriately, IP laws are important government tools which provide many economic and political benefits; these benefits can then be enjoyed by the country’s citizens through improved technological standards and increased income levels.
Unfortunately, over the years some governments have chosen to misuse IP laws to suit their own desires. Sometimes, IP laws have been used not to protect IP rights, but instead to stifle criticism of a government or democratic dialogue. In countries where such is the case, not only is dissent not tolerated; the misuse of IP laws serves to inhibit creativity, commercialization, freedom of expression, innovation, and national development. Such problems typically occur in iron-fisted dictatorships; nevertheless, even free democracies may experience them on smaller scales.
On a positive note, as a result of the tireless work of IP rights activists, many countries have begun moving towards a more balanced and mutually beneficial stance on IP rights. Some governments which formerly did not make use of checks and balances regarding IP laws now do exactly that. Laws and regulations which limit the government’s power to amend IP laws at their will have been drafted and passed. Some IP laws which were inherently unjust have been reformed and retooled to provide a more equitable IP sphere. In general, IP policies around the world have been moving in a favourable direction.
When anyone attempts to obtain IP rights in a different country, it is critical that the person fully understands and adheres to its IP rights and associated laws. By understanding how political developments around the world have affected such policies, international IP rights owners can bring many benefits to their business and increase their revenue.
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