As human being is ingenious in nature, the chain of introducing new ideas, inventing new things and presenting old inventions in a new fashion will continue till the last breath of the world. At the same time, globalisation is making the world smaller providing more opportunities to mix up cultures as well as adopting another's ideas. Ordinary people will find no wrong here but here is the inception of intellectual property rights (IPR) war. Such IPR controversy can be found in years back in the "Calculus Controversy" between the famous scientists Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilheld Leibniz. Both claimed as to be the father of the study of Calculus. However, historians accept both as co-inventor, having come to the idea independently of each other. In addition, let's not forget our own scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose whom we claim as the real inventor of Marconi's Wireless Detector!
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) as corporate political instrument
The developed countries are more concerned about the implementation IPR related laws with the vision of establishing a proprietary market advantage and protecting core technologies. In contrast, the developing or the less developed countries hold totally opposite view.
The WTO TRIPS Agreement, being the most ambitious and influential instrument for IPR protection, obliges the developed countries to provide technical and financial cooperation in favour of the developing and the less developed countries to facilitate the implementation of their IPR mechanism as per the covenants of TRIPS. This has been a wining contribution for the developed countries as strict implementation of IP laws will ultimately benefit the developed countries to increase its industrial capacity and market demand safely in the developing as well as in the less developed countries.
With the benefit of higher level of IPR protection, the already advanced and well-equipped, the developed countries will easily control the market of other countries. Even if, technologies and knowledge were transferred for free, it will be of no use to the developing and/or the less developed countries, firstly because, IPR mechanism will control the unauthorised reproduction or reuse of those transferred technologies; and secondly, authorisation will cost royalties by which major portion of income will go into the pocket of the developed countries.
If we think that it is better not to implement IP laws in Bangladesh and not to get involved in international mechanism as well as keep copying the new ideas, technologies and works from other countries; I must say: we are still living in the world of fools! First and foremost, we have no way open to escape our liability to the international community as the international rules are designed and devised by influential quarters. Secondly, though it sounds strange, the truth is that the developed countries are also stealing the ideas, works and heritages from the less developed countries more frequently than anyone can imagine. For example, we all know about "BASMATI RICE" which is a type of native rice of our country, also harvested in some parts of India. A few years ago, a USA company filed for a patent on Basmati Rice in USA office and got registration. Then the company tried to stop harvesting and farming Basmati rice in India and Southeast Asia by claiming its Royalty. However, the Indian government tackled the issue strongly and rejected the USA's claim saying that it is registered as their regional food.
Controlling the commercial world through IPR
The IPR mechanism has already taken its stance as an influential commercial instrument. The IPR jurisprudence protects every commercially important registered works from being copied or used without permission. The mechanism is monitored and controlled by several international treaties and protocols, amongst those the Paris Convention, 1883 for patents, the Berne Convention 1886 for Copyrights, the Madrid Protocol, 1991 for marks, the Hague Agreement, 1925 for designs, and the WTO administered TRIPS Agreement, 1994 for overall IPR mechanism are mention worthy. Reality shows that the developed countries indirectly compel the less developed countries to enter into bilateral and multilateral treaties, the pressure of which cause the developing and the less developed countries to enact non-practical and frustrating laws that hinder its intellectual potentials. Normally, liberal international rules do not apply in between countries in presence of bilateral treaties. For example: the TIFFA treaty between Bangladesh and America is, in my opinion, a commercial burden for Bangladesh. In near future, we may have to pay handsome amount of money for using some facilities what we are now using free, i.e. software. Imposing trade restrictions and refusing to provide tariffs (as USA is denying providing us GSP tariff) are some examples of pressure mechanism.
What should Bangladesh do?
Bangladesh may find some international IP mechanisms burdensome, while being a less developed country, it enjoys some incentives as well. Recently, the WTO extended the exemption period from paying patent royalty on drugs till 2032. That means we can copy and develop pharmaceutical products without paying any patent royalty to any country till 2032. We should take the 100% advantage of this prospect. There is no better option than creating mass awareness. Bangladesh needs three-tier strategy: national, regional and international. As bilateral treaties can debar us from getting the benefits of international treaties, the policy makers should acquire clear understanding regarding the IPR matters and be more operational to protect the national interest. In addition, the general people should be well informed and aware of their rights regarding their works and inventions. Besides, the TRIPS Agreement keeps an option of reviewing the impact of the Agreement open to the signing countries which can positively be used to save the collective interest of the developing and the less developed countries.
The post-Coronavirus world will be a changed world in terms of commercial and political polarisation. The IPR mechanism has both the aspects: we can rule or be ruled! In other words, it has the power to make us corporate slave, if we keep sleeping over our rights. Alternatively, it can be administered as the easiest way of getting benefited by our inventions, works, identity and heritages. As being a less developed country, we have points of arguments as well as scope of negotiation with the modern giant corporate leaders who will, by hook or crook, make their way out to make money by selling their ideas to us, and if possible, even by selling our own ideas to us! It is the high time to be aware, to be proactive on our own rights.
You might not be an entrepreneur, but you have an idea that you would like to see exploited, it might have the potential to gift you a better future, to give us a better world. A huge battle in the courts around the world is currently taking place over these rights that may bring positive changes in the governing laws. Before it is too late and before the flexible laws change and before the corporate giants become harsh on us, we should start working on this issue to protect individual interest as well as collective interest of our country.
The writer is an Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.