Reflections on the International Networking Conference “Ethical and Social Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights – Agrifood and Health” Brussels, September 2011

Michiel Korthals, PhD, Cristian Timmermann

Public goods, as well as commercial commodities, are affected by exclusive arrangements secured by intellectual property (IP) rights. These rights serve as an incentive to invest human and material capital in research and development. Particularly in the life sciences, IP rights regulate objects such as food and medicines that are key to securing human rights, especially the right to adequate food and the right to health. Consequently, IP serves private (economic) and public interests. Part of this charge claims that the current IP regime is privatizing the very building blocks of research and development – that used to be part of the commons. The public domain, in contrast to the private domain, may be the locus of much more diverse forms of creativity that at the same time ensures a wider plurality of productive traditions. An IP regime must support a sense of public morality because it is dependent upon civil support. This inevitably prompts questions of what are “good” exclusive rights and what are “bad” exclusive rights, and how shall such IP rights be developed. We argue that the democratization of the current IP regimes is an important first step to respond to these issues.


Keywords: intellectual property rights, social justice, open innovation, stakeholder conference