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Law in Context

Abstract from Volume 21 (2003) Balancing Act

Hegemony Based on Knowledge: The Role of Intellectual Property

Peter Drahos is Professor in the Regulatory Institutions Network at Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University. He is the Director of the Centre for Competition and Consumer Policy in RegNet. He researches and writes in the area of regulatory theory and globa­lisation.

John Braithwaite is Professor in the Regulatory Institutions Network at Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University. He is the Head of RegNet and an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow. He researches and writes in the area of regulatory theory and globa­lisation.

The efficiency and distributive effects of the global knowledge economy are deeply affected by the rules of intellectual property. This article describes how these rules were globalised by a small group of individuals in the 1980s. This group developed a strategy that was driven by a single idea that US intellectual property standards could be imposed on all other countries by incorporating those rules into the international trade regime. The results of this US hegemony over the global knowledge economy have potentially devastating consequences for economic development. In effect, the information rich have found new ways to rob the information poor. The article looks at some consequences, especially the effects of patent rules on access to medicines. Its conclusion is that the US has had a historically unprecedented opportunity to use its stock of knowledge to further the development of the many poor states in the world, but for the time being the US state and US multinationals remained committed partners in the institutional project of information feudalism, that is the project of acquiring and maintaining global power based on the ownership of knowledge assets.

(2003) 21 Law in Context 204

   
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