Putting IP first, environment second

Mark Weisbrot, Green technology should be shared, The Guardian, May 20, 2009.  Excerpt:

The battle over intellectual property rights is likely to be one of the most important of this century. It has enormous economic, social and political implications in a wide range of areas, from medicine to the arts and culture – anything where the public interest in the widespread dissemination of knowledge runs up against those whose income derives from monopolising it.

Now it appears that international efforts to slow the pace of worldwide climate disruption could also run up against powerful interests who advocate a fundamentalist conception of intellectual property

According to Inside US Trade, the US chamber of commerce is gearing up for a fight to limit the access of developing countries to environmentally sound technologies (ESTs). They fear that international climate change negotiations, taking place under the auspices of the United Nations, will erode the position of corporations holding patents on existing and future technologies….

[B]ig business doesn’t want to take any chances. Today they are launching a new coalition called the Innovation, Development and Employment Alliance (IDEA). (You’ve got to love the Orwellian touch of those marketing consultants). Members include General Electric, Microsoft and Sunrise Solar. They will reportedly also be concerned with intellectual property claims in the areas of healthcare and renewable energy….


  • On the one hand, IP interests are wealthy, skilled at lobbying, and well-represented in most national legislatures and WTO delegations.  On the other, environmental interests can be their match, even if they are not yet their match.  The growing but largely unsuccessful academic and consumer coalition to reverse the destructive evolution of IP law could gain decisive strength from the environmental movement.
  • But note that patent maximalism is largely separate from the kind of copyright maximalism that occasionally threatens OA.  For example, the Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the US contingent to put patent interests ahead of the environmental, has long supported the NIH OA policy.