Who Were the Actors Involved Behind the Inter-regime Shift and What Interests Were They Pursuing?

by jakecarberry

Given the way in which global society is currently structured, it is in the interests of countries to use inter-regime shifts as a means of enhancing their negotiating power, thus maximising gains from the system. This is most clearly illustrated by the inter-regime shift that occurred in the 1980s, wherein the developed countries sought to ensure that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) became the forum of choice for intellectual property, displacing the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).(1) The developed countries, and the United States in particular, had become increasingly frustrated with what they perceived as slow progress within the area of intellectual property protection. This was largely due to the dominance of developing countries within WIPO, the limiting nature of the one-country-one-vote system and the fact that there was no scope for cross-sector or linkage bargaining, that is, the linking of IP rights to other trade-related issues such as agricultural subsidies or quotas.(2) In essence, the developed countries sought to migrate the issue of IP protection to a negotiating forum wherein they could use the political and economic resources at their disposal to coerce developing countries into acting in a manner congruent with their economic self-interest.(3)

While it is certainly true that the developed countries were instrumental in implementing the inter-regime shift, such a state-centric view seems naïve given the relative complexity of the intellectual property system. On adopting a micro-level of analysis, it can be seen that there were many actors who found their input limited given the organisational structure of WIPO, and thus, these actors, namely, private corporations and non-governmental organisations alike, would certainly have supported the inter-regime shift. Private corporations, for example, are far more influential now than previously possible under WIPO, and through aggressive lobbying, were arguably the “…main proponents behind the push for stronger international intellectual property protection in the TRIPs Agreement.”(4)

There were thus a number of actors behind the inter-regime shift from WIPO to WTO and the interests they were pursuing, specifically those of developed countries and private corporations, have proven very similar; simply put, to protect incentives. The developed countries – chiefly the United States – performed the inter-regime shift not only to ensure that stronger intellectual property rights were implemented but also to enable themselves to exert a greater degree of control over the system. The structure of the WTO allows the developed countries to use their resources to steer trade-related negotiations, in this case intellectual property rights, in line with their own economic interests. This is especially evident upon reflection of cross-sector bargaining in which developing countries are left little real choice but to adopt standards of intellectual property that may be of detriment to their economic development and the dissemination of knowledge.(5) Moreover, given the inter-regime shift enables developed countries, such as the US, to exert greater influence in the WTO then perhaps the interest it served was to allow developed countries to force through IP policy that they were unable to domestically such as the United States’ digital agenda under Clinton. (6)

(1)Peter K Yu, Currents and Crosscurrents in the International Intellectual Property Regime, (2004)
(2)Margaret Chon, ‘Intellectual Property and the Development Divide’, Cardozo Law Review, 27 (6) Spring, (2007) p.2832
(3)Martin Khor, Globalisation and the South: Some Critical Issues, United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development, Discussion Paper 147 (2000) http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/
dp_147.en.pdf p.5
(4)Susan K Sell, Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights (2003)
(5)Chon, (2007)
(6)Yu, (2004)