Trump intellectual property demands on China based on distorted system says expert

August 8. 2019: Stephen Grenville from the Lowy Institute, formerly with the OECD, argues in The Interpreter that Australia should not uncritically join US attacks on Chinese theft of intellectual property (IP) on patents and copyright in debates about reform of the World Trade Organisation. He says that the current system is “so distorted by vested interests that the main beneficiary may be the army of patent lawyers and the legal process which support them.”

Grenville reinforces many of the criticisms made by AFTINET and other community groups that the current IP framework offers ever longer monopolies to vested interests, like copyright protection to Mickey Mouse long after the creator died, and ‘evergreening’ of  pharmaceutical patents to extend their life beyond the 20 years of monopoly they already have.

He reminds us that when America was at the same stage of development that China now is, it copied English cloth-weaving technology without paying IP royalties and its citizens read English books (famously, Charles Dickens) without paying copyright fees.

Grenville argues that China should pay legitimate IP charges, but before Australia  gets “too righteous about China’s predatory actions, we might recall that we are promoting an imperfect system which is heavily weighted in favour of IP owners such as the US, and against countries which are predominantly IP users such as China and Australia.”

He concludes that Australia should not support Trump’s bilateral mindset and that reinforcing US objectives on IP is problematical. Australia’s interests are multilateral, and it should support those interests in the debate about reform of the World Trade Organisation.

AFTINET has  previously critically analysed  the US Trump administration’s unilateral tariff actions and China’s retaliations, warning of the harmful impacts of a global trade war that are now becoming evident.