Making the case for strong intellectual property rights in Chile and Latin America

For countries like Chile looking to reduce dependence on the export of natural resources, innovation will be key. Knowledge-based industries from life sciences to film form the basis of economic growth in most OECD countries, their growth and investment encouraged by a strong framework of intellectual property rights.

Latin American countries such as Chile hold much promise due to their biodiversity, good science base and entrepreneurial citizens. Yet there is scepticism in policymaking circles in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America about the potential of innovation, and role of intellectual property rights, in particular in debates about public health. This most recently has manifested itself in attempts to by the legislature undermine intellectual property rights by making it easier to issue a compulsory license for medicines.

This was the backdrop to a one day dialogue of regional think tanks on innovation and development, convened by Geneva Network hosted in the offices of Centro de Estudios Publicos in Santiago, Chile.

Thinkers and experts from thirteen international, pro-market think tanks came together to give their perspectives on these important issues. Represented organisations included Libertad y Progreso (Argentina), MacDonald-Laurier Institute (Canada), Libertad y Desarrollo (Chile), Fundacion Eleutra (Honduras), Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (USA) and Instituto de Ciencia Politica (Colombia).

Among the conclusions of the day:

  • Latin America will need to prioritise innovation if it is to meet its social, demographic and economic challenges.
  • In an era of globalization in which knowledge-based industries form the bedrock of the most successful economies, intellectual property rights (IPRs) must be considered as fundamental market institutions, alongside physical property rights and the rule of law. By contrast, government attempts to co-opt IPRs through for example compulsory licenses create enormous uncertainty for domestic and international investors.
  • Strengthening domestic intellectual property rights is often viewed as a “cost” of trading with wealthier countries, to be resisted or watered-down. It is, in fact, necessary to meaningfully participate in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.
  • As knowledge-based goods and services are an increasingly important component of global trade, policymakers should look to the trading system to create a level playing field and high standards of protection.

Clearly, enormous challenges remain if Latin American countries are to become more innovative and participate more meaningfully in global value chains and international innovation networks. But the opportunity is there: it is up to the current generation of policymakers to seize it.