Mapping Prevailing Ideas on Intellectual Property: Preliminary Findings from a Survey

Date period
1 April 2013

SummaryMapping Prevailing Ideas on Intellectual Property by Professor Jean-Frédéric Morin, Université libre de Bruxelles, examines an overlooked yet critical dimension of global IP governance: where do IP ideas and beliefs originate and how are they transmitted? This is the first empirical study that seeks to answer these questions presenting the findings of a survey completed by more than 1600 IP professionals, and drawing some policy-relevant implications.

In this regard, the study shows that IP debates, often pictured as opposing those holding anti-IP views in the South to those supporting pro-IP maximalist views in the North, are in reality more complex and nuanced. IP professionals appear loosely organized in transnational networks where professional affiliation is more important in shaping views on IP than country of birth.

The study also emphasizes the important role of higher education and capacity building in the transmission of IP ideas and beliefs. It finds that university education in a developed country is more likely to result in stronger support for a more balanced approach to IP protection and it suggests that capacity building programs might be more effective if they are supported by empirical evidence.

ForewordIt is ideas and beliefs — about how negotiations work, what are suitable policies and regulations and what is the most relevant evidence — that form the underpinnings of policymaking at the international and local levels. This is particularly the case in the area of intellectual property (IP), where for a long time a ‘faith-based’ approach, equating stronger intellectual property rights (IPRs) with greater innovation and economic growth, has shaped global norm setting and national legislation. However, since the conclusion of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the level and reach of IP protection have become more contested and complex issues. As a result, current debates tend to be entangled in simplistic dichotomies between minimalists who favour weaker IP standards and maximalists who support higher standards. The reality is undoubtedly more complex, and this paper hopes to contribute towards achieving a better understanding of these issues.

For more than a decade, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) has strived to better inform IP policy discussions at the international level by bringing a greater diversity of views and greater reliance on empirical evidence. From this perspective, an empirically based exercise that would look at how ideas and beliefs on IP are formed and transmitted seemed appealing and useful, as it could potentially provide a more nuanced and dynamic mapping of such notions in this fast-changing area of global regulation with important implications for policymaking and most notably education and capacity building.

In this context, this paper by Professor Jean-Frédéric Morin, of the Université libre de Bruxelles, presents the findings of a survey completed by more than 1600 IP professionals. It is the first empirical study of its kind that seeks not only to identify the current trends in IP thinking, but also more importantly to map their origins and transmission mechanisms. Its primary objective is to gain a better understanding of communities of ideas in this area in order to generate thought-provoking and policy-relevant hypotheses.

Some of the questions addressed in the paper include: What are the prevailing IP-related ideas and where do they originate? Who holds minimalist and maximalist views on IP? Who is most likely to be persuaded by new arguments and change beliefs? What is the most effective way to communicate new ideas to IP professionals?

To provide answers to these questions, the survey inquired about the main sources of information of the respondents, their level of confidence in their beliefs and the type of IP rationale they tended to find most convincing.

Some of the survey’s key results confirm what a number of academic studies have already suggested. This is the case, for instance, in what concerns the transnational — rather than the national — dimension of IP-related ideas. Within a single country, attorneys, civil servants, NGO advocates, industry lobbyists and academics hold different views about the scope and reach of IP protection. Rather than sharing these ideas with their fellow citizens, they appear loosely organized in transnational professional networks. As a result, an individual’s profession is a more important predictor of his or her ideas on IP than his or her country of birth.

In terms of the mechanisms for the transmission of ideas and beliefs, the paper emphasizes the important role of higher education. However, it finds that university education in a developed country is more likely to result in stronger support for more balanced policies and access to ICTSD Programme on Innovation, Technology and Intellectual Property knowledge. This finding raises important questions about current approaches to IP teaching and education in developing countries, an issue that has been addressed in the past by ICTSD.

Finally, the paper examines capacity-building programmes as another key mechanism for the transmission of ideas in this field. Although, the survey’s results do not provide conclusive evidence that these programmes have a significant impact on government officials, the paper provides some directions to improve their effectiveness. It suggests, in particular, that such activities are likely to be more effective if trainers have practical experience and if their arguments are supported by empirical and statistical evidence.

Despite these interesting preliminary findings, there are several questions raised in the paper that merit further examination. In addition, although the survey sample is quite large, it is not necessarily representative of the entire community of IP professionals. Ultimately, more research is needed to confirm the paper’s findings, eventually build upon them and fine-tune them in order to draw relevant policy recommendations.

Beyond the findings of the survey itself, the paper has the merit of drawing our attention to an overlooked yet critical dimension of global IP governance: where do IP ideas and beliefs originate and how are they transmitted?

I hope you find this paper a useful contribution to efforts aimed at achieving a better understanding of the dynamics shaping the current rich and complex global IP regime, through greater reliance on empirical evidence.

Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz

Chief Executive, ICTSD