26 Jan 2012
A Practical Guide to Working with TRIPS: What TRIPS is and what is is not
By Dannie Jost
For industry people, journalists, activists, lawyers, diplomats, national legislators, and students of the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) has awesome proportions. These are magnified by the fact that these groups lack detailed knowledge of either IP as such or international trade law. IP involves a broad spread of academic specialists and practitioners covering heterogeneous complex regimes of patents, copyright, trade marks, design, undisclosed information (trade secrets), and geographical indications. IP, and subsequently TRIPS, is the meeting point of many stakeholders and actors with conflicting interests spread between market aspirations and concepts of public good. In a globalized economy with deep interconnections across sectors, national borders challenged by inchoate technologies, dynamic social stakeholders, and converging technologies, it is fundamental to have a clear and uncluttered understanding of this Agreement. That is because TRIPS impinges on trade in many products of daily life, from pharmaceuticals to entertainment electronics, as well as mitigating and adaptive technologies for climate change and sustainable development. Given its saliency and ubiquity in economic life, TRIPS has often generated misunderstanding and controversy in the public debate. To complicate matters, technical and legal issues at the interface of technology, IP, and trade remain the province of an eclectic band of specialists and on the radar of interest groups with goals on opposite poles.