The General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) was completed in 1994 during the Uruguay round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) trade talks. It is the most significant international agreement regarding Intellectual Property (IP) rights, introducing IP laws into the international trade arena for the first time. All members of the WTO are obligated to implement the agreement.
Within the agreement, copyrights are emphasized. The GATT TRIPs ensures that the granting of copyright is not burdened with registrations and other regulations. Computer programming is categorized as a literary work, and therefore granted copyright protection. Furthermore, requirements for instating patent laws are included, especially with regards to technological innovations and botanical discoveries, such as new types of trees. Provisions within the agreement also demand that national protection for patents and copyright be limited. In terms of these rights, citizens should not receive favoritism from national governments.
Rules for protecting these rights, as well as for settling disputes, are clearly defined. WTO strictly enforces the GATT TRIPs. Countries that are found to be non-compliant could face trade sanctions.
Since its inception, the GATT TRIPs has faced controversy due to the burden it places on poorer countries who must adhere to the agreement in order to maintain WTO membership. For example, drugs are not available at market rate in developing nations, mostly due to the power of those who hold the patents. Patent holders are usually found in developed nations, causing cash flow to be directed out of less developed countries.
This issue is illustrated with the AIDS crisis in Africa, where the GATT TRIPs has hindered progress. African nations, with their high number of AIDS victims, are forced to reduce their Gross National Product(GNP), the productivity index of a nation, in order to finance the drugs their citizens need. A study conducted by the World Bank, entitled Confronting AIDS, concluded that the annual GNP growth of countries in Africa is reduced by 0.5% as a result of heath care costs. For countries that tend to have high growth rates, such as Botswana and Uganda, the negative effects of this reduction in growth would be seen in the long term. Many African countries known to have lower GNP growth rates, such as Somalia, are more adversely affected.
While the GATT TRIPs has not been changed as a result of this controversy, a provision has been added to allow countries to better handle a national public health crisis. National governments are now allowed to produce drugs without the specific consent of patent holders. This provision was a result of the Doha meeting held among members after significant protest from developing nations.
Developing countries and least developing countries were given an extension until 2005 and 2016 respectively to fully incorporate the GATT TRIPs. As they continue to struggle with the implementation process, due to such factors as limited legal counseling, developed nations demand further protection for intellectual property rights. The United States, which served as a driving force for creating this international trade agreement, won 13 GATT TRIPs international intellectual property rights theft cases under the Clinton administration. Additional protection won by lobby groups includes the anti-circumvention laws to protect the Digital Rights Management system. Bi-lateral and regional trade agreements serve to further increase protection for patent rights.
While the problems associated with the GATT TRIPs are many, it is unlikely to be changed due to the support it garners from powerful WTO members, such as the United States and countries within the European Union.