Intellectual Property (IP) is a set of economic and moral rights (IPRs) concerning intangible creations of the human intellect. It includes patents on inventions, copyright on artistic work, such as music and literature (but also software), trademarks on goods and services, trade secrets on product formulas on production processes, as well as more specific rights attached to traditional knowledge (mostly in the form of geographical indications) or plant varieties (rights for breeders and farmers). Mainstream economic theory and law scholarship mostly explain the existence of IPRs in terms of the economic incentives they provide, to both individuals and companies, to engage in innovation. In their absence, it is argued, inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs would produce and diffuse less new knowledge than needed to fuel economic growth, for fear of being too easily copied. More recent studies emphasize instead their role facilitators of trade, both of goods, services, and media contents. IP has become itself an object of trade, with patents, trademarks, and copyright licensed, bought and sold across the world.
IPRs are nowadays a major economic resource for a variety of organizations, ranging from pharmaceutical and hi-tech multinationals engaged in global trade, agricultural consortia resisting the commodification of their products, media companies selling their contents through the internet, and software companies licensing their applications for computers, mobiles and connected objects.
The course will both look at the history of IP and at present developments. The history of IP and its international dimension predates the birth of capitalism, as it dates back to international trade and public procurement in ancient times (trademarks), technology transfer and migration policies in modern Europe (patents), and the invention of printing (copyright). Following the evolution of IP over time offers a unique viewpoint for evaluating the soundness of dominant theories and political discourses.
As for recent developments, the course will focus on international trade treaties, starting with TRIPs, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which coincided with the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in 1995. Companies and governments of advanced countries increasing rely on IP to sustain their international trade balance, having lost most comparative advantages in terms of production costs. Backward countries, with little autonomous technological potential, have either tried to resist this trend, or bowed to it in exchange of access to advanced countries’ markets. Emerging countries such as China, India or Brazil play on two tables, increasing swiftly their technological power through patent filing or copyright protection, while resisting excessive protection requests by the likes of the US or the EU. Thus, IP is at the center of post-TRIPs trade treaties as well as of their rejection by part of the public opinion.
Such globalization of IP has not only economic, but also societal implications. Three examples may suffice. First, protection of pharmaceutical IPRs can impact on the price of drugs, with important welfare consequences in both the poor countries and among the poor population of better-off ones. Second, patents and breeders’ rights on seeds for cereals and other foodstuffs put poor countries’ farmers in a weak bargaining positions, when it comes to buy both the seeds themselves and accessory products such fertilizers and pest controls. Last, copyright enforcement for digital products is invoked on one side as necessary to protect the producers of software and media contents, and resisted on the other as a form of censorship.
The course is meant to provide students with a basic understanding of the economic and legal principles underlying IP legislation and enforcement (not just through theory, but also history) and to introduce them to the debate on the global extension of both. Both descriptive statistics and case studies will be used to stress the relevance of the topic, which may otherwise sound too technical for some students.
Learning outcomes of the course
At the end of the course, students will understand the legal and economic fundamentals of the most important forms of IP. The historical perspective provided by the course will allow them to appreciate the soundness of the economic theories and political positions. As for the core contents of the course, IP globalization, students will get a knowledge of the legal, political, and economic logic and consequences of international treaties. Skill-wise, students will be able to retrieve information from international organizations such as WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) and policy or business articles for accessible magazines and newspapers, such as The Economist or the Financial Times.
Teaching and evaluation methods
The course will be organized as follows.
1. All material (slides, readings, data) will be made available before the start of the course
2. Frontal classes (lectures) and in-class activities will be alternated quite regularly, with a prevalence of the former at the beginning of the course and of the latter towards the end. Lectures will be based on slides and concentrate on either the key stylized facts to be retained or the basic theoretical elements to be understood.
3. In-class activities will consist in discussing either (i) the lecture-related materials (to make sure students read them instead on just relying on slides) or, especially towards the end of the course, (ii) materials searched by the students themselves, on topics of their interest. Discussions of (i) will be an individual activity (Q&A in class). Discussions of (ii) will be conducted by small groups. Students with data handling skills will be given the opportunity to work on data from public sources or provided by the lecturer, if they wish to.
The evaluation of students will be entirely based on their regular participation and involvement in class activities, plus a slides-based presentation during the exam session (upon request, students may submit a paper, too)
Unit 1 Basic economic notions (recap)
Unit 2 Introduction to the economics of innovation
Unit 3 Economics of patents /1: Legal basics & History
Unit 4 Economics of patents /2a: Economic analysis
Unit 5 Economics of patents /2b: Economic analysis
Unit 6 Economics of copyright /1: Legal basics & History
Unit 7 Economics of copyright /2: Economic analysis
Unit 8 The TRIPs Agreements /1: History & Politics
Unit 9 The TRIPs Agreements /2: Economic analysis
Unit 10 The TRIPs aftermath /1: The Doha round, TRIPs-plus, and WIPO
Unit 11 The TRIPs aftermath /2: Public Health; Plants & Genetic Resources
Unit 12 The TRIPs aftermath /3: Trademark notions; Geographic Indications; Cultural Heritage
Unit 13 Discussion of students’ proposals for paper/presentation topics chosen (on Friday)
Unit 14 Special topic: IP in science
The introductory lectures on the history, legal basics and economics of IP will be based on excerpts from three textbooks:
Guellec, D., and B. Van Pottelsberghe (2007) The economics of the European patent system: IP policy for innovation and competition. Oxford University Press
Lévêque, F., & Ménière, Y. (2004). The economics of patents and copyright, Berkeley Electronic Press (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=642622)
Further complements, on law and economics, will come from online introductory publications by major IP offices, such as:
EPO-EUIPO (2016) Intellectual property rights intensive industries and economic performance in the European Union, European Patent Office (Munich) & European Union Intellectual Property Office (Brussels).
WIPO (2016) Understanding Copyright and Related Rights, World Intellectual Property Org. (Geneva)
WIPO (2016) Understanding Industrial Property, World Intellectual Property Organization (Geneva)
As for TRIPs and other international treaties, further WIPO material will serve as an introduction. Excerpts from the following books will provide lecture-related reading material:
Archibugi D., Filippetti A. (eds) (2015), The Handbook of Global Science, Technology, and Innovation, Wiley-Blackwell
Maskus, K.E., 2012. Private rights and public problems: the global economics of intellectual property in the 21st century. Peterson Institute.
On the specific issues raised by the globalization of IP, both societal and trade-related, specific readings will be provided, in particular:
- policy reports from international organizations, such as the United Nations, the OECD or WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), for descriptives of international trends in IP extension and litigation
- popularization versions of research papers, such as blogs on VOX (https://voxeu.org/), discussion papers by IZA (https://www.iza.org/publications/dp), or Bruegel’s policy briefs (http://bruegel.org/publications/).