The Dog that Barked but Didn’t Bite: 15 Years of Intellectual Property Disputes at the WTO

55 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2010 Last revised: 5 Dec 2010

See all articles by Joost Pauwelyn

Joost Pauwelyn

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID); Georgetown University Law Centre

Date Written: November 12, 2010


Hope as well as fear was running wild when in 1995 the multilateral trading system incorporated the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights. As one author put it, “the [IP] component of the WTO [World Trade Organization] Agreement represented a revolution in international intellectual property law.” This article provides a reality check 15 years after the fact with a particular focus on how the WTO performed in terms of settling IP disputes under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It compares conventional expectations associated with the creation of TRIPS and WTO dispute settlement to (i) the number and types of TRIPS disputes actually filed and decided, (ii) institutional and substantive decisions and interpretations reached by WTO panels and the Appellate Body in their application of the TRIPS agreement and, finally, (iii) the status of implementation of adverse WTO rulings under TRIPS.

The article offers a number of hypotheses that may explain these descriptive results centered on (i) the rather unique features of WTO dispute settlement, (ii) the TRIPS Agreement itself as compared to other trade agreements and (iii) an escalating cycle of IP-skepticism, due in no small part to the hard-line position taken by many IP industries themselves, and culminating in the 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health which confirmed and slightly expanded TRIPS flexibilities in the context of the access to essential medicines debate.

The core message of this article is that based on 15 years of operation both the hopes and fears traditionally linked to TRIPS and WTO dispute settlement, not just in 1995 but to this day, were and continue to be largely exaggerated. TRIPS as conventionally portrayed by many is in this sense “the dog that barked but did not bite”. A caveat to this core message is, however, that it says something about the role and impact of formal dispute settlement under TRIPS, less about the broader changes brought about by the TRIPS agreement, in particular, sweeping (and often costly) legislative amendments in many developing countries, monitoring through the TRIPS Council and bargaining “in the shadow” of TRIPS both to weaken and to strengthen global IP protection (be it in the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, certain preferential trade agreements, WIPO or the WHO).

Keywords: Intellectual Property Rights, World Trade Organization, WTO, World Trade Organization, TRIPS, Dispute Settlement, Public Health

Suggested Citation

Pauwelyn, Joost, The Dog that Barked but Didn’t Bite: 15 Years of Intellectual Property Disputes at the WTO (November 12, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Joost Pauwelyn (Contact Author)

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) ( email )

PO Box 136
Geneva, Geneva CH-1211


Georgetown University Law Centre ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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