Are Human Rights and Intellectual Property Rights Complementing or Conflicting?

Blog    August 27, 2019
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Human Rights and Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) are two different legal areas that hardly intersected with each other before the 90s. In the beginning, they both grew separately and never infringed on each other’s domains. However, recently, it has been observed that these fields of law are interrelated. One view about the relationship between IPRs and human rights is that they can conflict with each other, while another one reflects that they may co-exist with one another. Such views often leave people with queries like; Are IP Rights compatible with human rights or causing damage to them? Let’s understand the relation between these two rights and find out an apt answer to the above-given question.

IPRs – being complementary to human rights

The IP Rights of authors and creators facilitate cultural participation and scientific access rather than restricting them.  It means both human rights and IPRs are compatible in the sense that later tries to strike a balance between access on one side and incentives on another. Indeed, one can acknowledge the intersection between these two legal laws by balancing positions and interests.

IPRs – being different from human rights

Looking at the history of these two laws, one can easily comprehend that human rights were not a priority for IP experts and vice versa. Besides, human rights professionals are still focused on establishing norms useful to prevent gross human rights abuses, whereas intellectual property rights experts emphasize widening the scope of IP protection by rewarding and incentivizing innovative activity.

By rewarding a person for his efforts, giving him protection for his product, and considering the innovation as an extension of his personality, the economic aspect of IP emphasizes firmly on individualism. On the contrary, the logic of human rights is quite different and acknowledges that the authors, creators, or inventors can not only be individuals but groups or communities as well. It recognizes the intrinsic value of intellectual products as an expression of human creativity and dignity.

As human rights mainly revolve around the protection of common goods and human dignity, they take into consideration the interest of not just authors or creators but also the whole society in a broader sense. In contrast, many authors claim that some aspects limit the IPRs to the interest of titular only.

IPRs – being obstacles to human rights

In the scientific domain, IPRs lead to more and more privatization and decline of the scientific publications. Many researchers delay the announcements of their invention and hide information related to them for defending their intellectual property. Hence, rather than being an incentive, IPRs act as a hurdle in the scientific progress. The multiplication of IPRs for a wide range of people who tend to safeguard their IP in such manner will result in a situation where everybody obstructs the other. Therefore, as terrible consequences, IP will reduce innovations.

Moreover, IPR is an obstacle to another human right, i.e., the right to health. For instance, the patent holders often set their costs far more than generics, making it difficult for people to have any access to appropriate and useful medicine.

Ultimately, it appears apt to conclude that IPRs hinder the essence of human rights. Furthermore, it has been continuously getting noticed that administrators responsible for delivering IPRs neglect the duty on the grounds of morality. Most of them estimate that considering moral and ethic preoccupations are neither necessary nor convenient, even though ethic preoccupations are the soul of human rights.

Resolution of the Conflict

Some may wonder how we can resolve the conflict between IPRs and human rights. For appropriate resolution, there is a need to identify the precise rights being undermined. Firstly, human rights executives must develop specific interpretations of economic, social, and cultural rights such that they can comply with doctrines under the TRIPs agreement. Secondly, it is vital to view the TRIPs agreement as per the human rights perspective, which emphasizes keeping the consumers and owners of IP products on an equal level. With the addition of human rights to the agreements, the consumers will no longer remain inferior to owners of the products. Thirdly, rather than supporting minimum standards for Intellectual Property Protection, the government should focus on imposing maximum standards. Lastly, the international forums, including the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and others should analyze and set the new laws with the viewpoint of human rights. It is how human rights can co-exist with IPRs and vice-versa. For more visit: 

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