TRIPS' Rebound: How the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ("TRIPS") Can Ricochet Back Against the United States: An Historical Analysis

66 Pages Posted: 22 May 2006

See all articles by Donald P. Harris

Donald P. Harris

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


Recently, scholars and commentators around the world have reexamined the role intellectual property rights (IPRs) play in hindering or helping developing countries. These scholars have questioned the theory that IPRs help developing countries by promoting economic development, increasing foreign direct investment, stimulating domestic innovation, and improving access to new technologies, and have concluded that imposing "Western-style" intellectual property regimes (e.g., the U.S. patent regime) on developing countries harm those countries. In particular, such regimes fail to create the purported benefits, while they impose many costs, including preventing people from obtaining life-saving drugs. This Article argues that it is not IPRs themselves that cause these problems but that it is the increased focus of intellectual property regimes on private interests rather than public interests. The Article examines the historical role that intellectual property has played in the United States and its contrasting role in the world community, as evidenced by the international intellectual property treaty (TRIPS). Though the traditional role of U.S. intellectual property policy was to advance the public interest, while the new role, now advanced by the United States, is primarily to advance private interests. This is perhaps understandable due to the shift to a more advanced, interdependent global economy. Nevertheless, the new role severely distorts the traditional balance between public and private interests and should be reexamined to determine whether the intellectual property system still promotes the public good. The Article reviews the scholarship concerning the harmful effects of this new role on TRIPS and developing countries, and posits that the new role will have a rebound effect and harm the United States by, among other things, stifling innovation and withholding rather than disseminating knowledge. The rebound effect results from two factors. The first is that TRIPS will constrain the United States' ability to tailor its intellectual property laws because TRIPS impinges upon U.S. sovereignty in this area. The second factor is that, as mentioned, TRIPS is inconsistent with traditional U.S. policy. The Article concludes by examining the harms caused to the United States and the causes of such harms.

Keywords: TRIPS, sovereignty, WTO, intellectual property, patents, copyrights, international law, parallel imports, compulsory licensing

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Suggested Citation

Harris, Donald Patrick, TRIPS' Rebound: How the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ("TRIPS") Can Ricochet Back Against the United States: An Historical Analysis. Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business, Vol. 25, No. 99, 2004/2005, Available at SSRN:

Donald Patrick Harris (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics