Intellectual property regulation, taken at its broadest level, is concerned with the production of, access to, use of and control over knowledge and a wide range of other intangible resources. These include, but are in no way limited to, inventions, ideas, songs, designs, aspects of cultural heritage, and genetic resources. The regulation of these intangible resources in turn facilitates control over the tangible products they are embodied within, such as medicines, seeds, and learning materials. As such, intellectual property regulation is crucial to issues as diverse as the development and dissemination of new technology, the creation of artistic productions and the observance of ritual practices. As humans, our thoughts, knowledge, innovativeness and creativity are fundamental assets in developing and developed countries alike. Therefore any regulatory framework around them has profound repercussions for a wide range of issues, including:
- distributive/economic issues (who can access and use these resources; who can benefit from their production and dissemination?);
- social/cultural/political issues (what moral and ethical consequences follow from creating property rights in certain categories of intangibles; what political and social arrangements and groups are privileged by which intellectual property rights; what motivates people to create and innovate?); and
- epistemological issues (what types of knowledge are valued; how is access to that knowledge regulated; what changes in epistemology are harmful and which are beneficial?).
In other words, intellectual property regimes both reflect, and work to create, sets of social, political and economic relations, both within national states and between nation states. They are therefore both driven by, and instrumental in, a wide range of developmental questions in the global South.
In this chapter we situate the discussion of intellectual property and development within the broader context of development itself. This highlights the political and economic context in which intellectual property regimes are being developed in countries in the global South, and also makes apparent the dominant paradigms within which claims and counter-claims about the relationship between development and intellectual property are made. This chapter characterises ‘intellectual property and development’ as a global movement that is currently being implemented in a similar way to the broader development project itself. We characterise this as operating within a neoliberal framework and involving a highly ‘top-down’ approach, with the establishment of institutions and legislation that replicate those in the global North, and the provision of technical assistance by those from the global North.