Sherry Knowles Interviewed by United Nations Radio About Role of IP in the Developing World

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Sherry Knowles Interviewed by United Nations Radio About Role of IP in the Developing World

World Bank explores link between intellectual property and development
December 20, 2010

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From the printing press to the personal computer to the latest pop song, the human mind has made some fascinating inventions. These creations are known collectively as intellectual property or “IP,” which is also the name given to the laws and other rights to protect those who came up with them. The World Bank recently hosted a symposium on the relation between intellectual property and development to investigate how it could spur economic growth. The World Bank’s George Collinet spoke to Sherry M. Knowles, a former Chief Patent Counsel for the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, who was among the attendees.

KNOWLES: The World Bank has an unprecedented and I think unparalleled opportunity to be able to influence intellectual property frameworks all over the world. And so we wanted to get together some of the key opinion leaders in intellectual property including David Kappos, the Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Judge Rader, economists and then also a representative of South Africa and the Chief Patent Counsel from General Electric to all come together in a room to talk about the effect of IP on development.

COLLINET: And you’re talking about judges. Some people are going to say, Why judges for intellectual property?

KNOWLES: Intellectual property includes a number of different components. One of those components is patents, another is copyrights. Then there’s trademarks and trade secrets. And these are rights which are provided by the government as an incentive to invent or to create a new design, or to come up with a new manufacturing scheme. The reason we want to protect intellectual property is because that is how society advances, that is how we get our new drugs, that is how we get new equipment, that’s how we learn how to make better cars and green technology. And so, in order to do that, the government gives a right which is called in one circumstance a patent right, and a patent right is the right to exclude others from your invention for a certain period of years. And there was a discussion today, at the conference, which I thought was very useful. It’s talking about the fact that patents really represent a generational relay. What that means is that there is an incentive to create an innovation which helps the entire world. It eventually gets everywhere, and therefore there is a time in which we repay the inventor and give sometimes a nice bounty for that invention, if that invention is truly worthwhile to society. But at a certain time it expires and, when it expires, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren all get to use that invention for free. So it is a way that we give a gift to the next generations of a new technology and help develop our society.

COLLINET: Intellectual property means the big West, the big countries. How does it relate with Third World countries and Developing countries?

KNOWLES: Yeah. I think that’s a great question because in fact patents are the great equalizer. People in any country can have a great idea, and can invent something. You can be an inventor in South Africa. You can be an inventor in India. You can be an inventor in Botswana, or somewhere in South America, and that invention can become a global product. And all of these countries have patent systems, and if the inventor will follow the patent application, protect his or her own invention, then that patent can also be filed in the United States, it can be filed in Europe, it can filed in China, which is a bigger jurisdiction every day, or in Russia. So, that inventor in a developing country can actually benefit from a global market as long as we get the education out there to teach the inventors how to do it. Now intelligence and innovation is not a Western phenomenon. People can invent anywhere in the world and it’s actually very exciting. There are brilliant people in every single country. So we think as time goes on there are going to be wonderful inventors in developing countries, who are going to get parents which cover the United States and Europe, and you’ll start seeing the United States, Europe, Japan, and other first world countries paying royalties to inventors in the developing world and actually we’re really looking forward to that.

COLLINET: And in a sense you want to tell people in the developing countries be very careful, you know you have to honour your intellectual property.

KNOWLES: We have to put a lot of education and focus into having the right intellectual property system in countries around the world because the singers, the authors – they need to have protection for their wonderful works. When we read a great novel, we want to be able to read another great novel. Our authors may not do that if their works are not protected. The singer, the musicians need to be reimbursed for their accomplishments or they might not give us another song which makes us cry during the holidays (laughter) or makes us want to dance on our anniversary.

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Sherry Knowles


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