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reading # 7 - 7 Intellectual property protection and...

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39 7. Intellectual property: protection and enforcement The WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), negotiated in the 1986–94 Uruguay Round, introduced intellectual prop- erty rules into the multilateral trading system for the first time. Origins: into the rule-based trade system Ideas and knowledge are an increasingly important part of trade. Most of the value of new medicines and other high technology products lies in the amount of inven- tion, innovation, research, design and testing involved. Films, music recordings, books, computer software and on-line services are bought and sold because of the information and creativity they contain, not usually because of the plastic, metal or paper used to make them. Many products that used to be traded as low-technology goods or commodities now contain a higher proportion of invention and design in their value — for example brandnamed clothing or new varieties of plants. Creators can be given the right to prevent others from using their inventions, designs or other creations — and to use that right to negotiate payment in return for others using them. These are “intellectual property rights”. They take a number of forms. For example books, paintings and films come under copyright; inventions can be patented; brandnames and product logos can be registered as trademarks; and so on. Governments and parliaments have given creators these rights as an incentive to produce ideas that will benefit society as a whole. The extent of protection and enforcement of these rights varied widely around the world; and as intellectual property became more important in trade, these differences became a source of tension in international economic relations. New international- ly-agreed trade rules for intellectual property rights were seen as a way to introduce more order and predictability, and for disputes to be settled more systematically. The Uruguay Round achieved that. The WTO’s TRIPS Agreement is an attempt to narrow the gaps in the way these rights are protected around the world, and to bring them under common international rules. It establishes minimum levels of protection that each government has to give to the intellectual property of fellow WTO members. In doing so, it strikes a balance between the long term benefits and possible short term costs to society. Society benefits in the long term when intellectual property pro- tection encourages creation and invention, especially when the period of protection expires and the creations and inventions enter the public domain. Governments are allowed to reduce any short term costs through various exceptions, for example to tackle public health problems. And, when there are trade disputes over intellectual property rights, the WTO’s dispute settlement system is now available.
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