Monday, April 26, 2010

World Intellectual Property Day - 2010

WIPO celebrates IP day. Emphatically, WIPO proclaims that:

WIPO is dedicated to ensuring that the intellectual property system continues to serve its most fundamental purpose of encouraging innovation and creativity; and that the benefits of the system are accessible to all – helping to bring the world closer.
WIPO's optimism seems to be odd with the growing sense that the IP system is hugely problematic and increasingly indefensible. US federal courts seem to look at the issue from a different angle by scrutinizing patents. The legal successes of the Havasupai Indians from Arizona and the group of geneticists that challenged patents on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer tell us a different story. furthermore, empirical evidence shows that innovation and patents are often one against the other. Chapman and Heald demonstrated the intellectual property system does not seem to drive the rate of innovation in the market for vegetable varieties. They claim that:
Drawing on a unique data set of all plant patents, plant variety protection certificates, and utility patents among 42 vegetable varieties, this short paper examines the relationship between intellectual property rights in vegetable crops and the diversity of commercially available varieties. Three findings are of particular interest: 1) Only 3.8% of varieties available in 2004 were ever subject to protection under patent law or the Plant Variety Protection Act; 2) More than 16% of all vegetable varieties that have ever been patented were commercially available in 2004; and 3) In 2004, approximately 4.5% of protected, or once protected, varieties consisted of inventions that were at least twenty years old. Although intellectual property rights appear to be an insignificant part of the crop diversity story, they exhibit much higher commercialization rates than expected (the conventional wisdom suggests a 5% rate), and they exhibit a slower rate of obsolescence than expected. Complete data on individual vegetable types are provided, and the sui generis nature of corn is also discussed.
While more empirical evidence is needed, we can certainly say that corporate ownership of science is no longer untouchable.