Observations About the First IP & Innovation Researchers of Asia Conference

We’re pleased to bring to you a guest post by Sumit Sonkar, a Ph.D. candidate in Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, on his observations on the First IP & Innovation Researchers of Asia Conference, recently held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Observations About the First IP & Innovation Researchers of Asia Conference

Sumit Sonkar

On January 31 and February 1, 2019, the Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) hosted the first IP & Innovation Researchers of Asia (IPIRA) Conference, co-organized by IIUM, WIPO Academy, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), World Trade Organization (WTO), Texas A&M University School of Law, and the School of Law, University of Geneva. During the two days, a large number of scholars from countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia engaged in presentations, discussions, and debates about the law, practices, and legislative developments in all areas of IP law. Many scholars from India attended the First IPIRA, and I was one of them.

As its general mission, IPIRA aims at facilitating IP academics and researchers, from Asia and beyond Asia, to discuss their respective papers with their peers and receive feedback before submitting the papers for publication. To this end, a special ‘Workshop for IP Teachers and Researchers’ as well as a conference focusing on research methodology were organized.

Being a young scholar, what I found striking while participating in the First IPIRA Conference was that it enabled an international network of IP scholars-both senior and junior-to truly engage with, discuss, and collaborate on the intricacies of IP practices to find solutions to problems in the regulation of IP rights. This aspect of the Conference was rightly highlighted by International Islamic University Malaysia’s Rector, Professor Tan Sri Dato Dzulkifli Abdul Razak during the opening remarks. Moreover, IPIRA strives to be a platform for scholars to exchange IP understandings and its intricacies in a fast-changing world where we are globally interconnected. This extends to both research and teaching, as underlined by Mr. Sherif Saadallah, Executive Director of the WIPO Academy, with respect to the ongoing challenges and opportunities for IP teaching and research, and by Mr. Antony Taubman, the Director of the IP Division of the WTO, who also emphasized the significance of connecting the academic community with the policy makers across various countries.

Many scholars from different legal systems presented their works in progress, which not only contained doctrinal analysis but also had empirical components. The various sessions featured topics from Trademarks, Patents, AI & New Technologies, Copyrights, Access to Medicines, Standard Essential Patents, Geographical Indications, IPRs & Trade, Genetic Resources, and Traditional Knowledge. For those interested, the full program of the Conference may be found here. In terms of both participation and quality of presentations, the conference may be considered a remarkable success. Nevertheless, owing to my own physical inability to attend all the parallel panels, I would like to dwell on a few presentations which I consider to be thought-provoking attempts.

In particular, I found the presentation by Joost Poort and João Pedro Quintais from University of Amsterdam on ‘Global Online Piracy Study’, interesting. The authors presented a study on the consumption of pirated materials in 13 countries, including several countries in Asia (Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand), and analyzed the effectiveness of blocking websites as enforcement measures. Many empirical studies, comprising economic studies have been conducted to highlight the feasibility and effectiveness of website blocking, but most such studies are irrelevant to the Asian context. This comprehensive study, in no uncertain terms, establishes that there is a correlation between low income of the population and costs of buying copyrighted materials behind the perennial issue of online piracy.

In the investment context, Bryan Mercurio from the Chinese University of Hong Kong examined the trends of the over-cautious approach adopted by the investment tribunals in interpreting Fair and Equitable Treatment (FET) in cases concerning IPRs. FET is considered as an unruly horse which erodes the autonomy of states, however, Bryan Mercurio’s research seems to suggest that conservative approaches of investment tribunals may manifestly make FET ineffectual. Consequently, it may detrimentally affect the legitimate expectations of states in protecting IP investment.

Debmita Mondal from Hidayatullah National Law University eloquently provided a sketch of how Indian courts through ‘Rights Test’ and ‘Remedies Test’ determine whether a dispute relating to an IP is arbitrable or not. The presentation provided a balanced picture of the Indian courts’ approach towards IP arbitration. Nonetheless, it is to be seen whether these approaches can be applied uniformly and suitably in all IP related disputes. Moreover, there is progressive recognition of mediation as a suitable means to resolve IP disputes, as arbitration may not adequately address the specific requirements of the parties. On both these counts, Indian courts’ approaches may require rethinking.

Ratnaria Wahid from Universiti Utara Malaysia advocated for the creation of high-level educational resources that are free and openly available on the internet. To enable this, Ratnaria suggested that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can be path-breaking for creating an equitable and inclusive society as people from low-income countries will get access to high-quality educational resources. Howsoever laudable this idea may appear, it must be borne in mind that, firstly, all MOOCs are not free. Secondly, it is limited in scope because it cannot provide databases of high-quality educational resources. Thirdly, its real effectiveness should also be measured from the availability of technological infrastructure. Therefore, a more democratic approach would be to promote Open Access publication of journals and books to enable every user to get benefits from high-quality educational resources.

Evidently, IPIRA has achieved an impressive feat in attempting to shape an institutional approach towards addressing the specific needs of scholars from diverse settings. Also, due to resource constraints, often young scholars from developing countries are unable to get exposure to the latest ideas in the IP realm and develop thoughts to improve their scholarly work. In this respect, I am thankful to the WIPO Academy for sponsoring me and several other scholars to attend the Conference. The organizers should also be commended for their efforts in making the event as inclusive as possible. All in all, the IPIRA Conference has provided a new forum where scholars have the opportunity to enrich their learning by sharing ideas with other scholars. The preparation for the Second IPIRA Conference is already in motion, and hopefully many more scholars will join this vibrant community next year.

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