Thursday, May 2, 2013

Connecting the Internet to Intellectual Property in the Caribbean

By Abiola Inniss

                   The last decade has seen the emergence of the internet at a pace that has left those who use it scrambling to grasp at the enormity of its existence. Policy makers, rights holders, legislators, content creators, users, producers, and a host of others while caught up in its momentum, are still uncertain about how to treat with the issues of regulating aspects of its usage. Some proponents of regulating the usage of the internet think that the interests of all parties should be balanced as fairly as possible through the use of regulations, while others feel that the free market should dictate its development, letting the chips fall where they might. The issue is not simply one of regulating the usage of the internet by giving rights to those who have or claim entitlement, and making everyone else pay for access to those materials they wish to use, it goes far deeper into complex issues and intersects in a number of areas as it does so.

The field of international intellectual property and its attendant laws and policy issues have effects that reach from the top levels of management of large International companies, to the ordinary woman sitting in an internet café in a Caribbean country, making an internet call to the United States about the next expected remittance, or the offshore internet gaming employee in Antigua or the Bahamas. Issues of international trade law, consumer laws and protection, private international law, international finance and local regulatory provisions (where these exist), all combine to create a convoluted mass through which considerable navigation skills (mostly legal) are needed to make any sense of it.

 Throughout the years there have been a number of attempts to regulate the varied forms of intellectual property usage by the establishment of conventions such as the Berne and Paris Conventions to which signatories agreed to implement laws within their own countries which would reflect the intention of those agreements and give reciprocity among signing nations. The World Trade Organization and the famous TRIPS agreement (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) to which developing countries are forced to adhere if they wish to benefit from trade agreements with developed countries, is a stark reminder of the financial power of the intangible known as intellectual property rights and the quest for absolute control over it. Caricom and its Caribbean Single Market and Economy secretariat are yet to respond to the growing complexity of International Intellectual Property in any comprehensive manner and to proffer its citizens some form of leadership on the issues. Internet law is as yet underdeveloped in the region and the lack of investment in technological research and development will serve to ensure that no forward movement is made in this direction.
 The WIPO World Intellectual Property Indications Report of 2012 has once again reflected the lack of any significant growth in research and development through patent filings in the Caribbean Region and augments this position. The list of top twenty country offices that reflected increased patent registrations belonged mostly to developed countries with a few from Asia, namely China and India, though Brazil and Mexico did present a notable number of registrations. The reports from past years ( available at www.wipo.int) indicate that there is a direct correlation between research and development and patent filings, both of which have been instigated by the private sector and the governments of the countries listed.

I have discussed this issue at length in the WIPO Journal issue of November 2012 and am still firmly disposed to the position that the responsibility for encouraging innovation and research remains with Caricom and its leaders. Just as CARDI (Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute) was founded, a regional institute for the development of technological innovations needs to be established. No single country within the Caribbean region has the capacity to single handedly tackle the issues of research and development at the level and pace required for any competitive contribution in this field, so that insularity and national pride are of no use to Caribbean citizens in this situation.

 Connecting the internet to intellectual property in the Caribbean requires the political and intellectual will of those in authority to create the opportunities for this to happen by developing research and development collaborative agreements, and by establishing the facilities for the purpose. It goes without saying that this is a matter of great urgency. It is left to be seen how the policy makers will act.

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