From Swords to Ploughshares
Edited by Lateef Mtima
Chapter 8: Intellectual property social justice in action: Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors
The 21st century is witnessing a transition from tangible goods to intangible assets having the highest economic value1 and this has naturally pushed intellectual property (IP) laws and systems to the forefront of social change debates. The discussion has historically been polarized, between developed countries and big business interests positioned on one side, against developing countries, small business and social justice advocates for the poor. The former are depicted as seeking to maintain their economic dominance through the establishment of strong global IP law regimes, while the latter are typically portrayed as seeking to resist such efforts, following the rationale that IP tends to impede poor countries’ development and keep their populations in poverty. But such binary thinking obscures the potential of intellectual property law and frameworks as social change mechanisms under a simplistic prejudice that IP necessarily serves only big business’ purposes and helps the expansion of monopolistic powers. A better view is that intellectual property law can serve as a powerful tool for social change, as part of the evolutionary shift of human activity and national economic output from tangible property to intangible property production and exchange. Furthermore, technological advances have accelerated those processes, pushing unknown boundaries in the domain of IP, making it harder for legal frameworks to catch up with, let alone anticipate, what IP’s next form and appropriate management might be.
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