Financial Times

Sri Lanka at a disadvantage from global TRIPS agreement

By Jagdish Hathiramani

A top scientist says there are a number of negatives for developing countries (like Sri Lanka) who have signed the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Prof. Vijaya Kumar, one of Sri Lanka’s top scientists and Chairman of the Industrial Technology Institute, identified these negatives as monopolistic or near monopolistic conditions when accessing computer programmes and scientific journals which are mostly owned by developed countries because the prices charged for such access is usually more than what is affordable by countries such as Sri Lanka.
Speaking recently at a "Knowledge Seminar on Intellectual Property to Commemorate World Intellectual Property Day - 26th April 2009", organised by nano technology, public-private joint venture SLINTEC, he noted that TRIPS actively discourages reverse engineering, a process instrumental in Korea's and Taiwan's rapid achievement of newly industrialised economy status.

It also disallows the concept of process patents, which were central to the rampant growth of India's pharmaceutical industry, and by advocating the protection of test data, TRIPS has also restricted yet another valuable avenue for developing countries from which they can prosper.

Ultimately, the strongest role of TRIPS appears, to several Sri Lankan scientists at least, to be its enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for mainly non resident firms. Meanwhile, according to Prof. Kumar, the usual arguments favouring TRIPS, including its promotion of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and technology transfers, applies only if the country affected has a strong national innovation systems, high national incomes and commercial environments and stable political environments to attract FDI/technology transfers; a situation not enjoyed by Sri Lanka presently.

Since scientists in Sri Lanka, as well as many other developing countries, usually do not have access to sufficient funds for research that would in turn generate patents -- a situation further limited by "negligible" private funding -- TRIPS has also been shown to only restrict scientific exploration. Further, this situation is apparently exacerbated in developing countries such as Sri Lanka because of its weak national innovations system.

This is a circumstance further harmed by inadequate education in the sciences, poor quality of research staff, little or no venture capital to foster scientific potential and a lack of necessary commercialisation through business incubators among other problem areas.

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