Policy-makers struggle to understand the economic concepts relevant to intellectual property rights

Dear Editor,

As the leading researcher, analyst and writer for almost a decade in the still emerging field of Caribbean Intellectual Property law and policy, my work has catalogued the laws and policies related to intellectual property rights within the Caricom states and their relation to international IP regimes such as the WTO’s TRIPS agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). I have investigated the anomalies which exist in terms of the relevancy and modernity of the laws, as well as their implementation and the level of adherence within countries. I have also examined government policies on intellectual property rights (IPRs) to determine whether those policies actually promote the use of IPRs and help to boost local innovation and technology.  This scholarship resulted in the conduct of a study under the auspices of Walden University USA over the course of three years beginning in 2014, which examined Intellectual Property Rights, innovation, and technology within the context of the Caricom Single Market and Economy. It was concluded in May 2017 and has revealed interesting and even startling findings about the effects and use of IPRs in Caricom countries. The study results will be formally released in the coming weeks.

Policy-makers in Caricom struggle to understand the economic concepts which are relevant to intellectual property rights, and how policies can be created which help people to utilize these legal mechanisms for their benefit. It is not a simple matter of delivering noisy platitudes exhorting the Caricom citizen to do more to use IPRs for monetary gain, instead, it begins with a government’s economic and social policies, strategies for promotion of these rights, and providing access to programmes, services and legal protections which are relevant to the modern world. Outdated laws serve only to frustrate the efforts of creative minds and stymie innovation in an economy. Local investors and inventors have no incentive to create new systems which will not be properly protected and for which they can receive no assistance in marketing to a wider consumer base. In the same vein, it is discouraging to expend creative energy when government policies do not promote innovation and technology as an important part of the economic plan. In addition, the tendency in some countries to focus on IPRs primarily in relation to cultural resources has facilitated a very narrow view of IPRs in relation to economic growth. This has been a singular problem faced by Caricom citizens, and one which policy-makers have been inept at solving because of the lack of relevant knowledge, intellectual capital, wherewithal and even more critical, an understanding of the importance of intellectual property in the modern economic space.

A survey of countries which fall within the category of developing has shown that where the governments have promoted innovation and technology as part of an economic strategy, the gains have been far greater. This is often done with the aim of increasing regional and global competitiveness, growing their economies, and developing science, technology, and innovation in their nations. Intellectual property rights are crucial to these aims. Indonesia is an example of this.

Throughout the years I have recommended that Caricom needs to take the lead in creating regional mechanisms which would make intellectual property rights far more accessible to all those who need to protect their intellectual assets. I have suggested that the CCJ could serve as a regional arbitral tribunal for intellectual property matters which would allow for swift resolution, and provide assurance of the highest quality of judicial competence necessary for an international arbitral tribunal. This would encourage foreign direct investors who want competence and certainty in the settlements of disputes, bolster the IPR regulations in the region, and establish Caricom as a provider of an internationally respected judicial forum for intellectual property. I have posited that Caricom needs to formulate a strategy for the promotion and harmonization of IPRs across the region in keeping with the aspirations of Article 66 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas ‒ to create a legal and regulatory framework for Caribbean Intellectual Property. To date, Caricom’s leaders have largely ignored the need for harmonization of IPRs across the region, even as the originators of the Treaty of Chaguaramas foresaw its growing importance to regional development and international economic viability.

The recent attempt to create a regional Patent Convention seems to have foundered for lack of interest, and citizens of Caricom are given the occasional treat of being told to ‘make it happen’ on their own. This is unacceptable. Governments of the region need to invest in the intellectual capital that will provide the essential knowledge base for incorporating IPRs into their economic plans, and it is incumbent upon  Caricom to follow through on the mandate given by Article 66 of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. It is time that they do more for the monetization of intellectual property in Caricom.

Yours faithfully,

Abiola Inniss

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