Susan Sell - Cat and mouse: forum shifting and the battle over intellectual property protection and enforcement

 cat and mouse

Since the early 1980s advocates seeking to ratchet up levels of intellectual property (IP) protection have shifted forums both vertically and horizontally in order to achieve their goals. They have shifted vertically, from multilateral to regional to bilateral levels, and they have shifted horizontally across diverse international organizations. Those who seek to ration access to IP are engaged in an elaborate cat and mouse game with those who seek to expand access. As soon as one venue becomes less responsive to a high protectionist agenda, IP protectionists shift to another in search of a more hospitable venue.

Forum-shifting can refer to several distinct dynamics, all of which are designed to yield preferred results by changing the game. Parties might move an agenda from one forum to another, exit a forum altogether (e.g. the US exiting UNESCO in the 1980s), or pursue agendas simultaneously in multiple forums. Strong states like the U.S. shift forums to optimize their power and advantages and minimize opposition. The IP enforcement agenda is just the latest in a series of strategic forum shifts. Yet “weaker” parties, such as developing countries and public advocacy non-governmental organizations (NGOs), also deploy forum-shifting strategies in their efforts to reshape the rules.

This project demonstrates the importance of tracking regime complexity and highlighting both policy and analytic implications of this phenomenon. The analysis traces the process of contestation within and across forums and argues for a longitudinal, broad and dynamic view of this contestation over intellectual property norm setting, rule making and enforcement.

About the speaker

Susan Sell (PhD UC-Berkeley, 1989) is Associate Chair of the Department of Political Science, and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She has written three books on the politics of intellectual property: Intellectual Property: A Critical History (with Christopher May); Private Power, Public Law: the Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights; and Power and Ideas: North-South Politics of Intellectual Property and Antitrust. She serves on the board of IP-Watch in Geneva (www.ip-watch.org), and has published numerous articles on the politics of intellectual property and global governance.

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