Panos London 06 Access Knowledge

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  • 8/14/2019 Panos London 06 Access Knowledge



    knowledgeHow access to informationand ideas can drive development

    Media briefing

    Promoting dialogue, debate and change

    All human development is based on theacquisition, spread and use of knowledge.Whether it is the know-how to produce life-savingmedicines or the latest innovation in farmtechnology, access to knowledge can bring powerand profitable returns. Unequal access, on theother hand, can create injustice particularlywhen based on economic disparity. This briefing

    outlines the main arguments supporting knowledgeas a tool for development, focusing on the keysectors shaping and influencing peoples lives.

    This briefing is the sixth in

    a series of short publications

    for the media on issues relating

    to the information society.

    To read all the briefings online,

    go to

    For further information, contact

  • 8/14/2019 Panos London 06 Access Knowledge


    What is intellectual property?

    Intellectual property is a legal devicethat gives exclusive rights to creationsof the mind, including literary works,designs and discoveries. Patents andcopyrights protect intellectual propertyrights by limiting access to informationand goods. Patents protect inventions,such as a microchip component or a newantibiotic, while copyright applies to theexpression of ideas, such as a book,song or computer software programme.

    While patents and copyrights protectthe rights of creators, inventors and

    discoverers, some people argue thatintellectual property rights can also helpthe systematic development of publicknowledge: an intellectual propertyright cannot be secured without makingan idea public; it therefore adds to thecommon stock of public knowledge.

    Access to knowledge

    Growing concern over moves to controlthe spread of knowledge has led tothe formation of an access to knowledge(A2K) movement, whose membersadvocate for intellectual propertylegislation to be balanced and forknowledge to be regarded as a meansto further the social and economicdevelopment of all countries, and notsimply as a profit-making tool.

    The A2K movement aims to changethe way knowledge is regulatedacross various sectors worldwide, andchallenges the extent of intellectualproperty. A2K seeks large-scale changes

    in the information- and knowledge-sharingaspects of policies in sectors such asinformation technology, broadcasting,agriculture,health, education and publiclyfunded academic and scientific research.

    2 Common knowledge: How access to information and ideas can drive development

    Current debates on access to knowledge

    are shrouded in technical jargon, yet

    the outcomes of these debates have

    a profound effect on peoples everyday

    lives. Governments remain the largest

    repositories of data in many countries.

    There is an urgent need to get behind

    the jargon and encourage informed

    public debate around the issue, if access

    to knowledge is not going to remain

    an obscure and distant issue for many

    of the worlds citizens. Freedom of

    information knowledge about credit

    entitlements, for example is crucial

    for empowering citizens and for

    democratic governance.

    Information and knowledge developedin the private sector comes at a price.Drug companies, computer softwarefirms and agricultural conglomeratesvalue their products according to thelevel of innovation that goes into them.Their investment in terms of time,skillsand resources can be considerable.Investment is also concentratedgeographically, with 86 per cent ofprivate sector research and development(R&D) taking place in six industrialisedcountries. In 2006, a UK report1 foundthat three sectors pharmaceuticals and

    biotechnology, technology hardware andequipment, and cars and parts accountfor more than half of all global R&Dinvestment. Indeed, global investmentsin R&D reached US$1 trillion in 2006,with pharmaceutical company Pfizer thehighest investor in the US accountingfor US$8.2 billion in that country.

    Access to these goods and to know-howis usually expensive and protected bylegal copyright. Private companies arguethat they need to put up this protective

    barrier, and high prices are necessaryto recoup the costs of their large-scaleinvestments. They say that knowledgeand innovation without incentives, ie,competition and profits, does not attractcreative minds.

    Critics respond by claiming that theserestrictions create a barrier to thesocial and economic developmentof poorer countries and, ultimately, tothe achievement of the United NationsMillennium Development Goals.

    1For more

    The A2K movement seeks changes in theknowledge-sharing aspects of education policies.GIACOMO PIROZZI | PANOS PICTURES

    Some people argue

    that intellectual property

    rights can also help the

    systematic development

    of public knowledge: an

    intellectual property

    right cannot be secured

    without making an idea

    public; it therefore adds

    to the common stock

    of public knowledge.

  • 8/14/2019 Panos London 06 Access Knowledge



    Intellectual propertyin everyday life

    Patents protect:

    the lid

    the seal

    the contents

    Trade marks protect:

    the jarthe label design

    brand names

    colour palletes

    Registered and unregistered

    design rights protect:

    the lid

    the jar

    Copyright protects:

    the label design

    Adapted from Gowers Review ofIntellectual Property, HM TreasuryDepartment, London.

    Gowers Review

    of Intellectual


    The development agenda would workto ensure that intellectual propertyis protected as a means of promotinggrowth rather than as an end in itself.Indeed, WIPO adopted the developmentagenda in October 2007, but how it

    will be implemented remains to be seen.Another international body thatis active in this field is the World TradeOrganization (WTO), which, like WIPO,is based in Geneva. The agreementon trade-related aspects of intellectualproperty rights (TRIPS) is the centrepieceof WTO intellectual property regulation,representing a vision of globallyharmonised intellectual propertyprotection.

    On many counts, a large numberof developing nations stand to losemuch more than they will gain fromsuch harmonisation. For that reason,they have been critical where they believethe practical impact on them has beenneglected. However, the TRIPS agreementdoes also provide an opportunity forflexible implementation. The provisionsfor exceptions and limitations in theTRIPS framework favour the poorestcountries allowing them to accesscheap and generic versions of branded

    drugs, for instance. A2K fights for anexpansive approach to this flexibility.

    Balanced intellectual property

    laws the A2K approach

    Common development is more

    important than private wealth.

    Because knowledge plays such animportant role in economic growth, anysustainable attempt at poverty reductionmust address knowledge flows.

    Accountability and transparency must

    be promoted at the national level.

    Citizens wellbeing depends on accessto the vast amounts of knowledgeheld by governments. Legal reformsshould promote access to governmentinformation, freedom of expression anduniversal access to telecommunicationsnetworks.

    Access to knowledge increasescreativity, development and utility.

    Open source software, as opposed toproprietary software, is an example ofa knowledge environment where relaxedintellectual property protection canlead to greater information production,as well as opportunities for corporateprofit-making through the provisionof services and development of supportnetworks (see the Panos London mediabriefing Giving away secrets: Can open

    source convert the software world?at:

    The politics of intellectual property

    in the international context

    Copyrights and patents are conferredby national governments,with anincreasing overlay of global treatiesand requirements designed toencourage investment in the creationof inventions and ideas. Today, theWorld Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO) oversees these treaties onintellectual property rights.

    Some countries believe that WIPOand other intellectual property treatiesprotect the position of powerful businessinterests in developed countries atthe expense of other interests. A2Kadvocates say that WIPO needs toembrace explicitly new developmentgoals that go beyond the task of simplyprotecting intellectual property rights.

    Several southern countries have

    suggested that WIPO should adopta development agenda,which wouldmake economic growth in developingcountries an explicit component ofits mission.

    Ideas areexpensive toproduce butcheap to copy.

  • 8/14/2019 Panos London 06 Access Knowledge


    4 Common knowledge: How access to information and ideas can drive development

    Affordable ARV drugs in Thailand

    In Thailand, where 580,000 people (1.4 per cent of the population) areHIV positive and AIDS-related illness is a leading cause of death,2 the governmentprovides ARV medicines for a nominal fee to all those who need them butcannot afford them.

    In November 2006 Thailand lowered the price of an ARV called Efavirenz(Sustiva), the patent of which is owned by the US pharmaceutical companyMerck. In February 2007, it brought down the price of a second ARV (Kaletrawhich combines the two drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir), owned by anotherUS company, Abbott Laboratories. The Thai government did this by issuinga compulsory licence which allows countries to copy and use a patented drugwithout the permission of the patent-holder under certain conditions.

    The Thai move has significantly lowered the price of both drugs. A Reuters articlein November 20063 revealed that this move brought down the price of Efavirenztreatment from US$38.84 to US$2022 per month, enabling the governmentto increase the number of people under treatment from 17,000 to 100,000.Under the terms of the licence, those who can afford to buy the patented drugwill not have access to the cheaper generic version, and the patent-holderreceives a 0.5 per cent royalty on sales of the locally produced generic drug.

    Although the TRIPS agreement allows compulsory licences, there has beena backlash against the Thai governments action. Abbott laboratories hasannounced that it will not be applying for licences to sell seven of its newestproducts in Thailand, while the US government has placed Thailand on a priority

    watch list of countries believed to be committing intellectual proper ty piracy.This move could damage trade relations between Thailand and the US.

    The TRIPS agreement

    TRIPS ensures that all the profits from

    the sale of a product go to the individualsor companies who hold the patent.This is particularly controversial in thefield of medicine. When a companydevelops a drug, it can apply for a patentthat allows it to control who has accessto the drug and at what price. This resultsin high prices which restrict access tolife-saving medicines, especially forpeople in developing countries and theirgovernments. An example is the manypatented life-saving antiretroviral drugs

    (ARVs) used in the treatment of HIVand AIDS.

    Pharmaceutical companies arguethat they need to charge high prices tocover the costs of R&D to develop newdrugs. The A2K movement seeks waysto bridge the gap between the need toencourage the development of medicinesand the need to provide affordablelife-saving drugs.

    Public health, intellectualproperty and human lives

    2More information available

    3To read the full article,

    The cost of some essential drugs

    puts them out of the reach of manyimpoverished people. Patenteddrugs are controlled by theirpharmaceutical producers, butgovernments can intervene tocreate compulsory licences,whichallow the drug to be copied andsold more cheaply. Alternatively,this Jamaican woman is collectingher government-subsidisedprescription drugs.NEIL COOPER | PANOS PICTURES

  • 8/14/2019 Panos London 06 Access Knowledge



    Governments and public agenciesspend billions of dollars on R&D

    to find solutions to problems and seekinnovations to improve quality of life.The R&D economy is huge: in theUS alone, government research agenciesspend US$140 billion annually on R&D.Once research has been conducted,scientists publish their results inpeer-reviewed journals a publicationmodel that evolved in the early-to-midtwentieth century, and is now aUS$6 billion-per-year industry dominatedby a handful of large publishers. Theindustry quality-checks and catalogues

    articles, usually deposits them in privateweb domains and sells them at a highprice through journal subscriptions.

    The scholarly media industry is thefastest growing media sub-sectorof the past 15 years.4 Althoughdominated by a handful of large firms,nearly 2,000 publishers issue closeto two million articles in more than70,000 journals every year. In 2000,the turnover of the UKs scholarlymedia was US$48 billion significantlylarger than the UK pharmaceuticalindustry (US$24 billion).5 Transferringthe intellectual property rights ofauthors to publishers is a preconditionfor publishing in academic journals.

    A2K advocates argue that restrictedaccess to scholarly articles may preventcitizens, researchers and policymakersfrom participating in the knowledgerevolution because they cannot affordthe cost of access.

    Moreover, they say the scientificknowledge base in the developingworld can only be strengthened throughaccess to the global library of research

    information. Currently, this is inhibitedby the high costs of journal subscriptions,with the result that most institutes inpoorer countries cannot afford to buymany of the journals they need.

    They also argue that public money iseffectively subsidising the production

    of scholarly material which is then soldback to public institutions by privatepublishing companies. Public moneyfunds research; pays researcherssalaries; and funds public institutionsto purchase these research findingsfrom scholarly media. A2K supporterssay this triple payment is unfair andunethical. For example, if the SouthAfrican government funds a researchproject on malaria and publishes theresults in a scholarly journal, SouthAfrican universities and doctors can

    only access this knowledge after makinganother payment.

    Open access publishing

    A diverse collection of A2K voicesis promoting open access publishing,through which web-based journalsoperated by non-profit organisations canselect their own articles for publicationthrough a peer-review process, and makethem freely available. Several scientificdisciplines are in the midst of successful

    experiments in open access publishing,including the Public Library of Sciencein the field of biology and medicine.

    Open access publishing is not without itschallenges, however. Although publicationcan be cheap, it is not free. Thus far,costs have been met by a combinationof private funding and publishing fees(where authors pay a fee to publish inthe journal), but the sustainability of thisapproach has not been demonstrated.Other problems include:

    p proprietary journals have capacities toqualit...