Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Biotech, IPRs, and Sustainable Development

Calestous JumaCalestous Juma recently delivered the 2006 Hinton Lecture in England, entitled "Redesigning African Economies - The Role of Engineering in International Development". Dr. Juma has had a very distinguished career, including having headed the United Nations Biodiversity Secretariat. In his lecture, he addresses how scientific infrastructure, education, institutions, and good governance can contribute to sustainable development in developing African countries. He notes a strong role for biotechnology and bioengineering in curing diseases, improving agricultural output, encouraging science education, and promoting knowledge-intensive industries.

Dr. Juma also makes a refreshing analysis of the role that intellectual property law can play in encouraging sustainable development - an analysis that acknowledges that patent systems and technological development do not always march in lock-step, but do co-evolve to an important extent. As he writes:
Protecting intellectual property rights (IPRs) is a critical aspect of business development and international partnerships. But overly protective systems could have a negative impact on creativity. It is therefore important to design intellectual property protection systems that take the special needs of African countries into account.

To encourage innovation and unlock local capital, individuals and corporations need to feel that their research is protected; where IPRs have been violated, compensation must be provided. Most countries, however, developed without these protections being structured across the economy in any clear way. Indeed, institutional development of patent regimes usually occurred after a country’s firms achieved a significant level of innovation capability and then desired to protect their investments. This line of thinking would lead to a global intellectual property regime that acknowledges the co-evolutionary nature of technological innovation and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Dr. Juma presents not only an optimistic view of what can be achieved in the developing world, but offers a detailed prescription of some of the factors necessary for sustainable development to be achieved.

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