Barrack Obama and the "Change" in IP Policy


Newspapers the world over have begun predicting the prospects of a “new” world under recent President elect, Barrack Obama. And in our esoteric IP world, talks have begun on what his appointment means for IP policy, both in the US and internationally.

Interestingly, one of President Obama’s chief IP advisors is Professor Arti Rai, a renowned Duke University law professor of Indian origin.

Liza Porteus, Kaitlin Mara and William New of IPWatch have put together reactions from various folks in the IP community on what Obama’s tenure might mean for IP policy. Here are some extracts:

Obama Victory Draws Quick Reactions From IP, Tech Communities

“The intellectual property community has been quick to begin the anticipation of a Barack Obama presidency in the United States following his election on Tuesday.

Although the consensus appears to be that an Obama administration would not bring any monumental change in intellectual property-related policy, there are some items – such as internet neutrality and IP in trade agreements – that may change direction a bit.

“Historically, the difference between Republican-led IP policy and Democratic IP policy is not that significant,” said Ville Oksanen, vice chairman of Electronic Frontier Finland.

“Obama’s regime is more likely to take the feedback from civil society into consideration and similarly more sceptical towards the pure business interests presented by Big Pharma, etcetera,” he said. “In the end, much will depend on what kind of persons Obama chooses to his cabinet for the key positions pertaining IP policy and global trade.”

But when it comes to international IP treaties, “this is where things could get more interesting,” he said, “with the Obama administration being possibly more willing to listen to a diversity of voices on matters such as open source – as are many other governments throughout the world.”

….James Love of Knowledge Ecology International praised Obama and predicted a moderate policy approach. During Obama’s stint in the US Senate, KEI was “never able to get Obama to engage to protect developing countries from the broader consequences of US bullying on intellectual property protection for medicines,” he said.

But Shamnad Basheer, an IP law professor at National University of Juridical Sciences in India, said, “Given his focus on reducing healthcare costs and his lack of an extreme ‘free-trade’ vocabulary, he’s likely to be more partial to the use of compulsory licensing by developing countries to bring down their drug prices.”

….Developing countries and public interest groups could expect a more “discerning approach” from Obama, agreed Sisule Musungu, president of Geneva-based think-tank IQsensato and an IP law and policy expert.

Musungu said he hope that seeing all the success the internet and technology allowed Obama in his campaign’s organising and fundraising efforts, it will “teach him lasting lessons about democratic governance of knowledge, openness, collaboration and access.”

….If substantive patent-reform legislation is passed, “there is no reason to expect that President Obama would not sign it into law. At least I know of no statements from his campaign that suggest any opposition to changing patent law,” said Steve Maebius, an intellectual property law partner with Foley & Lardner in Washington.

Obama has advocated the idea of a “gold-plated patent” that would result from a more rigorous examination procedure and less litigation – an idea some are critical of. But Maebius said the idea, in principle, is a good one.”

Closer home, the inimitable Joe C Mathew has put together a piece on what this means for Indian pharma. He notes in particular that:

“Indian pharmaceutical companies could be the biggest beneficiaries if Barack Obama’s election assurances on increasing the span of healthcare coverage in the United States are to materialise. The US President-elect is known for his support to the supply of low-cost generic or off-patent medicines in his country.

The domestic drug industry hailed Obama’s election victory as a positive signal for the Indian drug manufacturing sector. “Obama has been favouring procurement of generic medicines. He is also known to be in favour of plugging the loopholes in the US system that allows innovative pharmaceutical companies enjoy perpetual patent rights over their products. These two aspects should prove very positive for the growth of global generic pharmaceutical industry,” said Dilip Sanghvi, chairman and managing director, Sun Pharma.”

ps: For a funny take on Obama and IP, see this post here from our friends at IPKat, recounting a failed attempt to register the trademark “Obama Bin Laden”.

“The decision, rendered somewhat confusingly by an examiner named Bush, states that Bin Laden’s terrorist status renders the registration of his name scandalous. Moreover, neither Bin Laden nor Obama had given their consent to the use.”

Shamnad Basheer

Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer founded SpicyIP in 2005. He's also the Founder of IDIA, a project to train underprivileged students for admissions to the leading law schools. He served for two years as an expert on the IP global advisory council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2015, he received the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2015 for his work on legal education and on democratising the discourse around intellectual property law and policy. The jury was headed by Nobel laureate, Prof. Amartya Sen. Professional History: After graduating from the NLS, Bangalore Prof. Basheer joined Anand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to head their telecommunication and technology practice and was rated by the IFLR as a leading technology lawyer. He left for the University of Oxford to pursue post-graduate studies, completing the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. His first academic appointment was at the George Washington University Law School, where he served as the Frank H Marks Visiting Associate Professor of IP Law. He then relocated to India in 2008 to take up the MHRD Chaired Professorship in IP Law at WB NUJS, a leading Indian law school. Later, he was the Honorary Research Chair of IP Law at Nirma University and also a visiting professor of law at the National Law School (NLS), Bangalore. Prof. Basheer has published widely and his articles have won awards, including those instituted by ATRIP, the Stanford Technology Law Review and CREATe. He was consulted widely by the government, industry, international organisations and civil society on a variety of IP issues. He also served on several government committees.

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