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Protect & Promote Poor People’s Knowledge To Raise Their Incomes

Group Panel
(From left to right) World Bank Senior Advisor, Carlos A. Primo Braga, World Bank Economist, J. Michael Finger, and World Bank Director for the Development Research Group L. Alan Winters sit on the panel at the launch of this new publication.

Poor people can turn their own knowledge into higher incomes by using modern methods to protect and market it, says a new World Bank study. Until now, the global perspective has been largely defined by the WTO Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which protects knowledge overwhelmingly owned by developed countries. However, a new series of case studies compiled in Poor People’s Knowledge: Promoting Intellectual Property in Developing Countries, explores the ‘other side’ – the ground that TRIPS left uncharted – by highlighting the knowledge that poor people can commercialize.

As trade agreements around the world establish new rules on the protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs), another World Bank study argues that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to work, and that developing countries should opt for different standards of protection than those prevailing in high-income countries. Intellectual Property and Economic Development: Lessons from Recent Economic Research brings together recent empirical studies by World Bank or affiliated researchers on the effects of changing IPR regimes on economic and social performance in the developing world.

Poor people are ‘shorted’ by companies that register patents based on their knowledge and collect revenues that should go to the poorer communities,” says Philip Schuler, co-editor of Poor People’s Knowledge with fellow World Bank economist J. Michael Finger. “The challenge facing developing countries is to unpackage knowledge from indigenous products and repackage it for commercial markets,” he says, concluding that “the existence of IPRs is insufficient to meet this challenge.” He suggests that encouraging NGOs to challenge patent grants may prove a more effective solution than attempting to provide additional resources and authority to regulatory agencies.

Various case studies in Poor People’s Knowledge support the idea that culture and commerce complement each other. One such example is the World Bank’s Africa Music Project, which works with several African governments to develop the local music industry by effecting relevant policy and legal reform, and plans to distribute African music via an Internet-based system.

Senior Advisor Carlos A. Prima Braga
Carlos A. Primo Braga, Senior Advisor for the World Bank, speaks at the Washington launch of Poor People’s Knowledge: Promoting Intellectual Property in Developing Countries.

Studying the prevention of counterfeit craft designs, Betsy L. Fowler, international policy development consultant, presents examples of standard IP mechanisms helping to protect artisans in various communities. For instance, a Peruvian union-like organization pools together artisans with the same values and work ethic, and works to prevent counterfeiting by example. “Until all countries implement indigenous knowledge protection”, Fowler asserts, “networks and associations can effectively pool resources for lobbying, information and awareness training, and enforcement”.

Carsten Fink and Keith Maskus, editors of Intellectual Property and Economic Development: Lessons from Recent Economic Research recommend that international trade agreements – which have increasingly set rules on how to protect patents, copyrights and trademarks – must now specifically consider each developing country’s capacity to innovate, technological requirements, institutional capabilities, and the general need to promote poor people’s access to pharmaceutical products.

The studies presented in Intellectual Property and Economic Development take note of distinct empirical patterns that emerge in the way that IPRs affect development outcomes. An example is the observation that although IPRs affect the location decisions of multinational enterprises, other factors are of greater importance in attracting FDI. “Countries that sharply strengthen their IPR regime are unlikely to experience sudden boosts in inward FDI”, says Maskus. “They would be better advised to improve overall investment climate and business infrastructure.”

Several studies in the book, however, point to a significant development dimension to the protection of intellectual property. Interviews with firm managers in China show the negative effect of weak trademark protection on innovative Chinese enterprises. “Interestingly, there are strong regional disparities in the enforcements of IPRs”, says Maskus, “with the effect that firms are reluctant to expand into China’s poorer regions, where enforcement is comparatively weak.”

The two reports are available through the following links as PDF file downloads:

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