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Intellectual property rights and the Third World

Review: Intellectual property rights and the Third World. Mashelkar, R.A., 2001. Current Science 81 (8): 955.
by D.P. Agrawal

In this very important article, Mashelkar discusses the issues of generation, protection and exploitation of intellectual property (IP), which are vitally relevant to the Traditional Knowledge Systems in the Old World. The new IP regimes will have wide ranging socio-economic, technological and political impact. As per the obligations under the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Systems (TRIPS), all the members of World Trade Organization (WHO) are supposed to implement national systems of intellectual property rights following an agreed set of minimum standards. However, there is an increasing feeling that harmonization is demanded from those that are not equal, either economically or institutionally. Mashelkar brings out the major concerns of the Third World about such harmonization and the new challenge it faces in diverse areas of intellectual property protection and makes some valuable suggestions.

The discussion includes the need for a fair play in technology transfer, creation of ‘favourable economics’ of essential medicines from the point of view of the Third World, protection of Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (an essentially Indian initiative) and linking it to the International Patent Classification System (IPC) through a Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification System. It is an important conceptual step forward.

Mashelkar also deals with the challenge of bridging the divide between the Third World and other developed nations, with special emphasis on intellectual property information sharing, capacity building with creation of appropriate physical and intellectual infrastructure and awareness building. It is argued that the Third World should negotiate a new ‘TRIPS plus’ which means ‘TRIPS plus
equity and ethics’.