Centre for Internet & Society

The Global Congress on Intellectual Property and Public Interest is being held at the National Law University, Delhi, on 15-17 December 2015. The global event is jointly organized by CIS, NLU Delhi, Open A.I.R., CREATe, Columbia University and American University. Below is the Press Release from Day 2 of the Global Congress.

Press Release

16 December 2015

Users’ rights and interests should be balanced with those of IP rights-holders

Today, on the 2nd day of the Global Congress on Intellectual Property and Public Interest at NLU-Delhi, a range of issues were discussed across the parallel tracks. The Access to Medicines track opened with a keynote address by the honourable Justice Kirby, former judge of the High Court of Australia and current member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines. The Openness track saw discussions on collaborative innovation, the future of openness and access to education, along with cross-sectoral perspectives on openness.

In the Intellectual Property and Development track, the discussions centred around the intersection of traditional knowledge, geographical indicators and indigenous rights, on agriculture and plant varieties with specific references to the Indian position, and an exploration of the global South’s research networks on IP, innovation and development. The track focused on a range of themes, including the development issues that arise from varying approaches to intellectual property, i.e., closed or open approaches, depending on the limitations placed on the sharing and use of knowledge produced with public funding.

The User Rights track is closely aligned with openness. Today, the track explored issues of copyright reform and digital democracy, along with concerns of increasing propertisation of data. A discussion around trade agreements and their impact and enforcement on copyright and the Internet allied with the above sessions.

Speakers shared their views on a variety of issues:

Access to Medicines

Justice Michael Kirby, former judge of the High Court of Australia and its longest serving judge, spoke on the changing challenges in the ‘access to medicine’ movement. There has been a sea change in the access to anti-retroviral drugs, he said, but also increasing challenges.

“The key question in access to medicines is this: How do you provide just returns for inventors, while at the same time respecting the universal right to essential healthcare? Developing states like India are increasingly at risk. In 2001, the UN Special Rapporteur on Access to Medicines expressed his concern about the fact that TRIPS flexibilities open to developing states are rarely used. This concern is deepening with the trend of United States, Japan Switzerland and other European countries convincing poorer states to give up their TRIPS exceptions and flexibilities.”

Anand Grover of Lawyers Collective was concerned that intellectual property is not delivering on its stated objectives, particularly in developed states.

“It is important,” he said, “to keep checking whether objectives are met through the patent system. Earlier, generic manufacturers were keen to employ a strategy that invited conflict from patent-holders and pharmaceutical companies. But increasingly, their strategies are backfiring; courts are leaning towards granting injunctions against generic manufacturers. This is a real concern.”

Shiba Phurailatpam of the Asia-Pacific Network of People living with HIV/AIDS spoke of the increasingly dismal scenario of access to affordable medicines in middle-income countries:

“Multinational companies are using World Bank classifications of GDP to deny affordable medicines to millions in the developing world. With the profits they are making in these countries, they then lobby their governments to push TRIPS-plus measures in our countries through FTAs and bilateral pressure. Meanwhile they are also entering into restrictive voluntary licenses with key Indian generic companies that exclude middle-income countries. 20 years of TRIPS has only strengthened pharmaceutical corporate power over the lives and health of patients. If we are serious about universal health care the monopolies on medicines have to end.”


“The digital environment cannot be developed without an important agenda on open policy and copyright reforms,” said Carolina Botero of the Karisma Foundation.

Lawrence Liang, legal researcher and expert on the practice and ethics of intellectual property and openness, said,

“Over the past decade and a half, the language of openness and ‘Access to Knowledge’ has emerged as an important counter to the dominant proprietary and protectionist approach of the global IP regime. By shifting the focus from proprietary systems to open ones, and from control to equitable access, the openness frame has created a political and ethical language with which people could redress the harmful effects of strong IP regimes. Open systems of knowledge production and dissemination such as Wikipedia and Open Access journals could play a key role in helping developing countries gain access to learning materials and knowledge which are locked into expensive databases. In that sense openness is an important political strategy to address questions of equity and distributive justice in the information era.”

Alek Tarkowski, Director of Centrum Cyfrowe Projekt in Poland, concurred,

“Open licensing models and modern copyright rules are complementary from the perspective of ensuring freedom of education."

Mishi Choudhary, Executive Director of SFLC.in, said that

“The government of India is right in embracing Free and Open Source Software, and in encouraging free sharing enabled by the suite of Creative Commons licences. It is crucial to understand that intellectual property is not an end in itself. The 21st century needs innovation policy and collaborative innovation, not IP maximalism.”

Intellectual Property and Development

K.M. Gopakumar, legal advisor and senior researcher at Third World Network, said,

“The current IP regime prioritises the rights of intellectual property-holders without addressing development needs. A change in this status quo is the need of the hour. There is an urgent need for governments, specially in developing countries, to interrogate the international IP regime to achieve sustainable development goals, instead of simply following the propaganda of transnational corporations and their home governments.”

Lucienne Abrahams, Director of the LINK Centre for Digital Transformation in South Africa, argued that,

“Innovation to produce more effective medicines for dread diseases and pandemics, to produce clean technologies, and digital technologies, in the high technology hubs forming across the African continent, the Asian continent and other developing regions of the world, requires open innovation approaches to keep up with the demand of more than 4 billion people for new technologies to enhance quality of life and to address conditions of dire poverty. Patents and copyright provide too meager opportunities for development-oriented innovation.”

User Rights

Claudio Ruiz of Derechos Digitales spoke of the need for greater engagement between advocates and scholars towards openness:

“There needs to be a better connection between advocates and scholars towards openness, and therefore, develop a better Intellectual Property regime, especially for developing countries. The Users Rights track at the Global Congress is a great gathering to connect those worlds and therefore to fill the existent gaps in terms of research and advocacy.

“One of the most important challenges we are facing today is to fight existing narratives on intellectual property. Today, these are considered the only way to enhance and protect creation of content and culture. But new developments, especially those connected with technology and the Internet, are a huge opportunity to create new narratives around this topic and to create a safer space for users around the world who are seen today as pirates and copyright infringers. The last 40 years’ of international regulation on copyright has been mainly driven by private interest of copyright owners, the users and the general public being alien to these discussions. The development of the Internet today creates a great opportunity to connect users and the general public with the international regulation of copyright. Copyright regulation is not just about content owners, but about access to knowledge and information for everyone. That implies the need to address public interest as the main topic and not as a marginal one.”

“One of the most important issues for India and for the world today,” said Prabir Purkayastha of the Knowledge Commons Collective, “is the question of data rights. The world is grappling with these. The Internet economy today is based on converting personal information into private property. Data rights are critical from the perspective of privacy, and also whether data rights should constitute property rights.”


Photographs of the speakers can be found at this link: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B60BN7sFZRQFSzNFSERkTmtrcEE&usp=sharing.

For more information, please contact me at [email protected].

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