TRIPS is the commonly used acronym for Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights. When ever a meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) commences, TRIPS come under the scrutiny of columnists and journalists. Why is that? What is this thing that so often stirs up a hornets nest? These are questions which every individual might ask.
According to the WTO, “Intellectual property rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time.”
The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was first negotiated in WTO’s 1986-94 Uruguay Round.
The reasons behind the need for TRIPS, given by the WTO is that “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 internationally-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.”
TRIPS has introduced the following standards of protection.
3) Geographical indications
4) Industrial designs
6) Integrated circuits layout designs
7) Undisclosed information and trade secrets
(For more details on these measures visit the WTO web site)
(An example of an Indian Geographical indication is Basmati Rice, Darjeeling Tea, Kanchipuram Silk Saree, etc.)
These measures have been advocated so as to reward and promote creativity and innovations. How far they have rewarded creativity is debatable. These measures provide them rights over their own inventions.
One major reason for me to be concerned is because these TRIPS agreement took place during the early Globalisation years (1986-94). This was a period of liberalisation, privatisation and market integration with the global economy for many developing nations like India, China, Argentina, etc. India became a member of WTO on January 1, 1995.This was a period where the ‘Creativity Economy’ was booming. Getting hold of patents, copyrights etc is a time consuming and tedious task, especially in the developing countries as the flow of processes and services were not very advanced and smooth. The developed nations exploited this opportunity. They protected themselves by gathering a lot of patents and copyrights, which made manufacturing and allied activities difficult for the developing countries. The rich nations enjoyed a comparative advantage over the poor ones and also widened the inequalities, in their quest to become economic and political superpowers.
Has TRIPS benefited the common man? Have they significantly improved the growth of the Indian economy?