The role of Intellectual Property Rights in Information and Communication Technologies

The role of Intellectual Property Rights in Information and Communication Technologies

Does the Intellectual Property Rights regime hinder the mass diffusion of information and communication technologies?

The last two decades of the twentieth century saw an intense debate on several intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the international fora. While developing countries were arguing for 'lesser' level of patent protection, the developed countries were successful in introducing a move under multilateral trade negotiations which would eventually ‘strengthen’ patent protection and other intellectual property rights.

This paper begins by examining the basic arguments provided by economic theory to explain the existence of the patent system. The paper then concentrates on the three important Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) industries viz., telecommunication equipment, computer hardware and semiconductor industries. The issues covered in the discussion on these industries are the technological characteristics; market structure and technology transfer experiences of selected developing countries.

Even though there are some differences in these industries, what come out clearly are some similarities. These similarities pertain to concentration by firm as well as country; rapid technological changes; existence of scale economies; rising minimum efficient levels of production; entry barriers to the industries both financial and technological etc.

This paper seeks to explore the following questions:

  • How are intellectual property rights and information and communication technologies related?
  • What is the role of IPRs in the technological development of information and communication technologies?

The paper briefly touches upon the issues pertaining to Internet and the problems it raises for copyright; protection of computer software and the discussion on a sui generis protection for databases. The paper concludes that the role of IPRs in ICT seems to be marginal and as prices are falling it does not seem to be attracting negative attention. The paper also suggests that the fact that intellectual property protection is not leading to a discernible rise in prices, while technological advances are resulting in falling prices, which in turn leads to imports and rapid diffusion of these technologies in developing countries, is making these technologies very uncontroversial.