August 6, 2008

Ruth Rikowski on the WTO and intellectual property rights

A Marxist Analysis of the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (PDF)

Policy Futures in Education
Volume 4 Number 4, 2006

RUTH RIKOWSKI
London South Bank University, United Kingdom

This article examines the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). There are many WTO Agreements, but TRIPS is likely to have significant implications for areas such as information, education and libraries. The article provides an overview of TRIPS in general. Various intellectual property rights (IPRs) are covered in TRIPS, including copyright, patents, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, integrated circuit designs and “trade secrets”. It then considers the implications of TRIPS for information provision, focusing in particular on copyright and patents. Finally, it examines the TRIPS within an Open Marxist theoretical perspective. The author argues that TRIPS is fundamentally about transforming IPRs into internationally tradable commodities. Marx began his analysis of capitalism in Capital volume one with “the commodity”. We need to get back to basic Marxism and to make it applicable to the global capitalist world that we find ourselves in today. Thus, capitalism is essentially about the commodification of all that surrounds us and the TRIPS assists with this process. Value that is extracted from labour, and largely from intellectual labour, becomes embedded in internationally tradable commodities (such as patents) that are created and socially validated by TRIPS. Profit is derived from this value and through this process global capitalism is extended and intensified.

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