Global Governance Structures

Before we can understand how intellectual property policies impact people’s lives worldwide, we need to appreciate the global governance structures through which these laws and policies are formulated.

So we’re going to start the course with an introduction to some basic principles of international law and an overview of some of the key international organizations playing in this field. That is going to segue into an overview of the most important treaties and agreements on matters ranging from intellectual property and trade to development and human rights. Finally, we’ll link recent events in the realm of global intellectual property policy making to the concepts of development, social justice and access to knowledge.

Since you signed up for the class, you obviously were not intimidated by the fact that you probably know very little about intellectual property at this point in your legal education. Some of you may have been exposed to the topic, through an introduction to property law generally, through your undergraduate education or through work or other experiences. Those who don’t know anything about IP (and even those who do) will benefit greatly from a primer on the topic. Read these two papers from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): one on copyrights and related rights, and the other on so-called industrial property like patents and trade-marks.

For many of you, this will also be your first foray into international law. There are two sorts of international law: public and private. Public international law governs relationships among states. Private international law, however, deals with persons, including legal entities like corporations. The international intellectual property system is a hybrid of these: states agree to ensure their domestic laws provide private rights in accordance with the international standards. Start by surfing through the information available hereherehere andhere. (I know, those are unorthodox reading assignments for law school, but this is an unorthodox class.) This will give you a sense of the nature of obligations imposed on states when it comes to implementing intellectual property agreements. We’ll also work to understand the nature and function of various international agencies and organizations working in this area.

Those readings on the basics of intellectual property and international law will get you through the first week of classes, and prime you for the rest of the course. What follows in this post will get you through weeks 2 and 3, through February 17, 2010.

One of the key messages I want to convey throughout our seminar is that studying the global intellectual property system is as much about politics, economics, sociology and other fields as it is about law. To understand and influence policy forumulation in this area, we simply must take an interdisciplinary approach.

I’ve thought carefully about how to best convey that point to you, and I think an example of the relationship between law, politics and sociology will help. Amy Kapczynski published an article in the Yale Law Journal in 2008 describing how and why the A2K movement has been able to re-frame international intellectual property debates. Because there’s so much ground to cover in this lesson, I’m going to get you to read the “pocket part” instead of the whole article:

If you’ve got a little bit of extra time, it would be worth skimming through the responses of some leading thinkers in this field to Kapczynski’s ideas. Check out these pieces from Peter DrahosRuth Okediji and Tomiko Brown-Nagin.

From there, I’ll lead us into a more specific discussion of a few key intellectual property related agreements. By far the most significant of these is the WTO TRIPs Agreement. To understand anything in this course, you’ll need to know about:

Don’t dwell on interpreting every provision; try to get a sense of the big picture. Study the subheadings and look for provisions that jump out at you. We’re going to come back to TRIPs again and again to analyze specific provisions.

The signing of TRIPs marked a monumental turning point in global IP policy, and much of what we study in this course is a result of or response to it. I’d like us to spend a fair bit of time talking about how exactly an agreement of this magnitude was reached. That requires us to delve a little into the political economy and international relations. Please read what I think is one of the best summaries of the lead-up to TRIPs:

As important as TRIPs is, it is really the start not the end of the development of the contemporary global IP framework. In the 15 years since TRIPs, a complex web of interwoven agreements and organizations has emerged. Please read only pages 2-5, 11-12 and 18-24 of the following paper to get a sense of how IP issues are dealt with by the United Nations and in related fora.

I’ve assigned Sisule’s paper because he’ll be here in Ottawa to talk about his work as President of the IP policy think tank IQSensato. He’ll be doing a seminar at the International Development Research Centre, which you’re invited to, Monday, February 8 from 13:00-14:30. He’ll also be visiting our class for a roundtable discussion that afternoon.

Finally, to bring you up to speed on the latest general developments, please have a look at Chapter 1, the introduction to my recent book. This will introduce you to the most important thing to happen in global IP policy since TRIPs, and perhaps ever: WIPO’s “development agenda.”

There’s a book launch here in FTX 147 on Tuesday, February 9 from 15:00-17:00 that I’d love you to attend, if you can make it.

Monday, February 15 is the Family Day holiday, so we’ve got no class scheduled then. And Wednesday’s class on February 17 has been cancelled so that we can attend a guest lecture by Maggie Chon from 11:30-13:00 (attendance is mandatory; location TBA). She’ll offer a critical race and feminist spin on global IP policy. Please prep for this by reading her latest publication: