Thursday, May 10, 2007

US IP Law Forced Down Everybody's Throats

From "Exporting I.P." by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker:

Our recent free-trade agreement with South Korea is a good example. Most of the deal is concerned with lowering tariffs, opening markets to competition, and the like, but an important chunk has nothing to do with free trade at all. Instead, it requires South Korea to rewrite its rules on intellectual property, or I.P.—the rules that deal with patents, copyright, and so on. South Korea will now have to adopt the U.S. and E.U. definition of copyright—extending it to seventy years after the death of the author. South Korea will also have to change its rules on patents, and may have to change its national-health-care policy of reimbursing patients only for certain drugs. All these changes will give current patent and copyright holders stronger protection for longer.
In other words, the US is extorting its "trading partners" into tilting the playing field towards massive American technology, pharmaceutical and media companies. Without these onerous provisions, the US surely would not enter into the trade agreement with South Korea, which is why I call it extortion.

Let's be clear, these provisions do absolutely nothing to help the economies of America's "trading partners", as they extend the government sanctioned monopolies these major corporations enjoy inside the US abroad, harming or completely shutting down potential competitors in these other markets in the process. Furthermore, they harm the citizens of these other countries by, for example, restricting access to life saving medication that happens to be patented by an American corporation and raising the costs on local goods due to the need for patent licenses from American corporations, amongst other harmful effects. This is the reason why the US attaches these provisions to agreements that contain other clauses that help the economies of both America and its trading partners. If they were contained in stand-alone agreements, no country would be dumb enough to sign them.

It is unfortunate that US citizens have to suffer under America's broken patent system which long ago ceased to promote innovation and instead is now merely a vehicle for greed. What is most unfortunate, however, is that America's economic strength and domination of the collective global economy enables it to force the rest of the world to suffer as well. As James Surowiecki so aptly puts it in his piece:
Why does the U.S. insist on these rules? Quite simply, American drug, software, and media companies are furious about the pirating of their products, and are eager to extend the monopolies that their patents and copyrights confer. These companies are the main advocates for such rules, and the big winners. The losers are often the citizens in developing countries, who find themselves subject to a Draconian I.P. regime that reduces access to new technologies.
I probably sound like I'm all for the abolishment of "Intellectual Property" in its entirety, but that is not the case. What I am for is the establishment of a sane balance between the needs of inventors and the needs of citizens in developed and developing countries alike, and these trade agreements the US pushes on everyone doesn't come close to this balance.


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