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Global Dimensions of Intellectual Property Rights in Science and Technology
David C. Mowery, associate professor of business and public policy in the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley, examines the investment and trade effects of changes in the IPR regime. He points out that it is impossible to judge whether the worldwide strengthening of IPRs would be in the U.S. national interest, because adequate empirical information on the costs and benefits is lacking. Mowery notes that the intersectoral trade-offs being negotiated within GATT to gain greater IPR protection may hurt some U.S. industries. He adds that a GATT settlement on IPRs may have only modest effects on foreign investment because so many factors play a role in the globalization of markets. Mowery stresses that, for the United States, much more needs to be learned about the domestic economic effects of the strengthening of U.S. domestic intellectual property protection that has taken place over the past decade.
The third panelist, Michael Borrus, is codirector of the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy, also at the University of California at Berkeley. He focuses on regional asymmetries in the cost of and access to technology development and their implications for the future use of IPRs. Borrus comments that the rapid development and global diffusion of technology have reduced the ability of U.S. industry to appropriate know-how through non-IPR means (e.g., by maintaining lead time), which has motivated the United States to call for stronger protection. He notes that technologies in which the United States is strong seem to be particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon and adds that increased protection of IPRs does not address the underlying problems of asymmetrical access to accumulation of knowledge that exist among nations and are being exacerbated by the emergence of regionalized clusters of economic and technological competence. Borrus suggests that perhaps the time has come to consider complementary alternatives to the strict focus on IPR protection, which might include efforts to strengthen the nation's and firms' capacities to cycle technology more rapidly, to appropriate know-how developed elsewhere, and to use and diffuse new technological innovation more effectively.
Robert W. Lucky, the former executive director of the Communications Science Research Division at AT&T Bell Laboratories, discusses trends in technology development and the future assertion of IPRs. He expresses concern about the fact that corporate R&D centers such as Bell Labs are finding it increasingly difficult (from the standpoint of corporate profitability) to justify investment in esoteric lines of fundamental research, particularly when many competitors do not make a similar investment and yet are able—through a variety of mechanisms (including the standard-setting process, the open literature, and conferences)—to access much of the intellectual property that a company such as AT&T produces. Lucky notes that researchers do not respond to the patent incentive; indeed, their motivation is to make their results public as rapidly and completely as possible. He