On 11th June, 2014, at the WTO TRIPs Council, India made a strongly worded intervention when the agenda of ‘Intellectual Property and Innovation: Innovation Incubators” was tabled by the United States and Taiwan. According to the Taiwan official, incubation centres provide a set of integrated resources including research, access to equipment, office space, etc to help small and medium enterprises to help offset the risks they face when starting off. The admirably strong statement by India outlined how the “narrow lens of IP” can stifle innovation, and described that other approaches (primarily ‘openness’) has more potential to kindle innovation, especially for developing countries.
The Indian delegate argued that an over-emphasis on IP on matters related to innovation is unwarranted. India began by pointing out that the word “Innovation” itself appeared just once in the entire TRIPS Agreement, in Article 7 which says that IPR should contribute to the promotion of technological innovation and on the transfer of and dissemination of technology. India then pointed out that the TRIPS makes it abundantly clear that IPR is only one of the many tools available to Society to achieve technological development, and how this tool can be used depends on several other factors, including the level of socio-economic status of the country. Several interesting examples were given by India to support the proposition that innovation should not be looked through the “narrow prism of IP”- one of which, sourced from the book Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 by Anna Lee Saxenian, was the comparison between the development of Silicon Valley on the US West Coast and Route 128 Corridor in Massachusetts. While the former thrived due to the “culture of interdependence” and “synergy between different businesses and services”, Route 128’s culture of secrecy led to its eventual decline.
India also pointed out that the success of innovation incubators depends on several factors such as infrastructure, level of education, quality of participating universities, etc and looking at innovation narrowly through the lens of IP “would not only undermine the spirit of innovation amongst the people but would create barriers in providing affordable, low cost and appropriate technologies to the developing countries.”
This intervention by India is illustrative of India’s growing support of a strong open source Innovation culture. There are several Innovation Incubators in India such as India Innovation Fund, One Idea, etc which work on an Open Source Model. In fact, the Indian Government’s Science, Technology and Innovation Policy also stresses on the employment of Open Source Models to foster innovation. A well-known manifestation of this policy is Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD), which brings together research organisations, scientists, hospitals, etc to collaborate towards finding solutions for the problems created by diseases that are traditionally ignored by pharma lobbies, such as Tuberculosis, Malaria, etc. The drugs that are developed by this model are made available as Generic Drugs without any particular entity claiming ownership through IP.
Earlier in the same WTO TRIPS council, India had objected when the United States introduced a discussion on the role of University-Technology partnerships in innovation. India argued that an over-emphasis on IP will deviate the focus of Universities from basic research towards meeting the commercial needs of the industry. India’s IP policies have drawn much flak from the USA with the USITC even contemplating imposing trade sanctions on India for this reason (SpicyIP has recently reported about it here). It is heartening to see that notwithstanding the fact that India is on the USA’s radar, it is championing the cause of alternative, non-IP based models that better serve the interests of innovation in developing countries.
[KEI has made the full text of India’s intervention available, you can view it here.]