The Enduring Enigma of TRIPS: A Challenge for the World Economic System

25 Pages Posted: 29 Feb 2008 Last revised: 22 Jun 2014

See all articles by Frederick M. Abbott

Frederick M. Abbott

Florida State University - College of Law

Date Written: January 1, 1998


This special issue on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) is introduced with a perspective that focuses on the urgency of narrowing the gap in living standards between the rich nations and the poor. The 1997/98 world economic crisis highlights the question of whether creating an international market in intellectual property sufficiently addresses the interests of developing countries in the diffusion and use of knowledge. It is suggested that substantial intervention by international institutions with interests in promoting development is also required. The role of IPRs in economic development is analyzed, and this contribution points to a few areas in which consensus among international IPRs specialists is emerging. Among these is that the role of IPRs is context-sensitive, depending on the particular characteristics of countries in which IPRs systems are introduced, and depending on the specific industries in which these IPRs are employed. This context-sensitive role argues for flexible implementation of the TRIPS Agreement in developing and newly industrializing countries. In WTO implementation of the TRIPS Agreement (including a review of national laws and dispute settlement) and in forthcoming WTO TRIPS negotiations (in areas such as biotechnology and genetics, the digital environment and electronic commerce, exhaustion of rights, non-violation causes of actions, competition and investment), the specific interests of the developing countries must be given a priority. Just as developed countries have traditionally balanced the IPRs interests of producers, consumers, and the science and research communities, so also must the WTO balance respective global interests in technology and creativity. The author urges a more extensive role for institutions such as the World Bank in technology capacity-building.

Suggested Citation

Abbott, Frederick M., The Enduring Enigma of TRIPS: A Challenge for the World Economic System (January 1, 1998). Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 1, Issue 4, pp. 497-521, 1998, Available at SSRN:

Frederick M. Abbott (Contact Author)

Florida State University - College of Law ( email )

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