Abstract: WIPO claims that by providing the framework for strong intellectual property rights, it can facilitate economic development, even in the least developed countries. Since its inception as an organization, WIPO has aligned itself with the UN goals of development. However, "development" for WIPO takes the form of institution building to protect intellectual property. WIPO only assesses itself based upon how often it communicates its message of strong intellectual property rights, not ever on if the institutions and legal framework it introduces around the world actually facilitate development. It is time to make that assessment – has the work done by WIPO in the past 37 years contributed meaningfully to economic development in the least developed countries of the world?
This paper introduces a WIPO counterfactual – the world without WIPO. The question before us is: what if WIPO did not exist; what if WIPO had not, for the past almost 40 years been working towards its goals regarding IPRs; finally, what might be the impact on development for the least developed countries in the world?
In order to examine the impact of WIPO on development, I’d take two countries as case studies – Chad and Mali – in order to assess the methods through which WIPO’s activities have facilitated development in these countries. Ultimately, the case studies suggest that while WIPO has contributed to institution building, economic, social, cultural or political development has not been substantially enhanced by WIPO’s existence. Despite decades of meetings and educational activities, not only do IPRs remain relatively unprotected, but strengthening their protection has not sparked development; at least not in the countries that could use it the most.
Debora Halbert (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.