Working paper Open Access
The contemporary governance of intellectual property rights (IPRs) is an important illustration of how dense regime complexity shapes international politics. In particular, it enables a strategy of “forum shifting,” whereby states, NGOs, and multinational companies move issues and agendas to those venues that are most closely aligned with their interests and priorities. This article looks into the multifaceted nature of these dynamics by analyzing the “North-South” politics of two of the most critical areas of IP intersection – patents on medi-cines, and IPRs in biogenetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.
I shall argue that developing countries have “prevailed” in each of these conflicts not by securing rules that they desire, but by preserving more policy space for implementing IPRs than the U.S. and the European Communities were willing to concede. This finding poses a puzzle for realism – the most pertinent and developed approach on regime complexity. I therefore advance an argument that combines a focus on the institutional setup of regime complexes with ideational variables derived from a frame-analytic perspective. Such an approach reveals how developing countries and supportive NGOs raised the legi-timacy costs of acting on a maximalist IP agenda by deploying rules and rhetoric developed in more hospitable institutional settings, such as the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity), the WHO (World Health Organization) and various U.N. human rights bodies.