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Intellectual Property Rights: Do They Work for the Poor?

Phone july 11 123Global intellectual property regimes are a recent phenomenon. Conceived as part of a wider set of economic ‘neo liberal’ structural reforms, their intention is to bring all commercial development under the auspices of a single system governing the patenting of material and intellectual resources for exploitation.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are granted on inventions, trademarks and industrial designs, while copyright is granted to literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs.

Patent regimes have been operative for several centuries in the developed West, and traditionally have remained national in origin and scope. What is unprecedented about the new generation of intellectual property regimes is the attempt to enforce them across the world, regardless of each individual country’s economic, research base or commercial capacity to manage or exploit them.

With systemic regimes of dispossession at the heart of Africa’s economic and governance problems, imposing an IPR regime on the resources people access fails to address the real issue. The real issue for most Africans is that they have very little property to protect, and they have grown used to living with the pervasive assumption that what little they may have can be taken from them at any time. Signing up rights over individual resources in terms of the TRIPS regime will do nothing to solve this problem, unless and until the wider questions of what property means to the poor, what property they have and are entitled to are addressed. If the IPR regimes that are to be imposed across the world are to be pro-poor, the first question they need to answer is: what of the poor’s property needs recognition and protection?

Read the whole article on Onislam (formerly Islam Online)