Summary and Keywords
Longstanding international frictions over uneven levels of protection granted to intellectual property rights (IPR) in different parts of the world culminated in 1995 in the form of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)—a multilateral trade agreement that all member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are obligated to follow. This landmark agreement was controversial from the start since it required countries with dramatically different economic and technological capabilities to abide by essentially the same rules and regulations with respect to IPRs, with some temporary leeway granted to developing and least developed countries. As one might expect, developing countries objected to the agreement on philosophical and practical grounds while developed countries, especially the United States, championed it strongly.
Over the years, a vast and rich economics literature has emerged that helps understand this international divide. More specifically, several fundamental issues related to the protection of IPRs in the global economy have been addressed: are IPRs trade-related? Do the incentives for patent protection of an open economy differ from those of a closed one and, if so, why? What is the rationale for international coordination over national patent policies? Why do developed and developing countries have such radically different views regarding the protection of IPRs? What is the level of empirical support underlying the major arguments for and against the TRIPS-mandated strengthening of IPRs in the world economy? Can the core obligations of the TRIPS Agreement as well as the flexibilities it contains be justified on the basis of economic logic? We discuss the key conclusions that can be drawn from decades of rigorous theoretical and empirical research and also offer some suggestions for future work.
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