Amid the global Covid-19 vaccination campaign, a debate has emerged around intellectual property (IP) and stark inequalities in vaccine distribution. Wealthier nations have opposed a petition to waive the 1995 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which imposes a 20-year monopoly for pharmaceuticals among other global IP standards.
In her 2008 book, CAROLYN DEERE turns to the domestic implementation of the TRIPS agreement across developing countries, finding large variations in new IP governance structures and enforcement.
From the introduction:
"Amidst growing debates on globalization and inequality, TRIPS became a symbol of the vulnerability of developing countries to coercive pressures from the most powerful developed countries and galvanized critics of the influence of multinational corporations on global economic rules. While IP advocates insisted that stronger IP protection could serve as a ‘power tool for development’, a host of prominent international economists, such as Jagdish Bhagwati and Joseph Stiglitz, questioned the place of TRIPS in the WTO system (and continue to do so). Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang, among others, emphasized the costs to developing countries of introducing ‘irrelevant or unsuitable laws’ that restrict access to technologies and knowledge. Developing countries argued that TRIPS ignores the diversity of national needs and forces them to sacrifice the ‘policy space’ that richer countries harnessed in early stages of their growth.
Given the vocal concern expressed by developing countries during the TRIPS negotiations and after it came into force, one would reasonably expect them to have taken full advantage of the possibilities the Agreement provides to tailor implementation to respond to national economic and social priorities. Careful examination of the empirical evidence from 1995 to 2007, however, reveals a more complex picture of how developing countries responded to this room for maneuver. There was striking diversity in the approach developing countries took to the implementation of TRIPS rights and obligations. Most notably, developing countries took varying advantage of the legal safeguards, options, and ambiguities in TRIPS, now commonly referred to as the TRIPS ‘flexibilities’. Further, a surprising number of developing country WTO members implemented even higher IP standards than those required by TRIPS. By contrast, some developing countries took advantage of a range of TRIPS flexibilities, but their approaches varied according to the type of IP (e.g. copyright or industrial property). Further, many developing countries missed their deadlines for bringing their laws into conformity with TRIPS, thus effectively claiming more flexibility than provided for in the Agreement. Across the developing world, governments struggled to upgrade institutional capacity and resources to effectively administer and enforce their IP laws."