Sunday, April 15, 2007

Aids, Linux and Intellectual Property in Brazil

Involving the patents for Aids medicine and the initiative for the use of Free and Open Source Software in Brazil confronted the world with a new approach on intellectual property. It was for the first time a country came so close to the violation of a patent. Even though it is not a matter of a third world country with an underdeveloped system of justice that can allow itself the freedom to ignore international laws on IP because it has nothing to lose anyway. The principle of ignoring international laws on IP is not new. Already in the 19th century the United States ignored the copyright of foreign authors to give the young nation the freedom to develop itself. [1]

IP was defined initially to allow inventors to share the details of their inventions under protection of the law, that guaranteed a certain monopoly for the commercial exploitation of her or his invention. This way innovation and development, and as a consequence economic growth, would be stimulated. But as the years passed the aspect of development got less important, and issues of property and exploitation have gained importance, which made the issue predominantly a juridical one. This can lead to surreal situations, as was proved in 2001 when the Japanese Asahi Foods Company patented Cupuacu, [2] a Cacao-like plant from the Amazon. This way the absurd issue raised that the Brazilian and Peruvian locales, that had been cultivating the plant for generations, could be accused for the violation of IP. A comparable case of ‘bio piracy’ was reported in the case of Basmati rice in India.

[Minister Gilberto Gil at Berkeley University]

As the aspect of development lost priority in the discussion about IP, the possibility to react efficiently to emergencies, like the Aids epidemic and poverty, got more difficult. This is why the leaders of the country decided to change their view on IP. As pop artist, minister of culture and protagonist of FOSS Gilberto Gil said: “… The Brazilian government is definitely pro law, but when the law does not apply to reality, the law has to be changed. That’s not new. It is civilization as usual …” [3]

The Brazilian attitude on IP is fundamentally not a matter of blackmail or cost efficiency, but a choice for a new model of development. As Sérgio Amadeu da Silveira said: “… We are not talking about one product against the other – like Ford against Fiat. We are talking about different models of development …”. [4] It is the difference between a model based on economic development and a model based on development in general. It is a model of the collaborative design and shared responsibilities.

[1] Patently Problematic - The Economist - September 12, 2002
[2] http://www.amazonlink.org/biopiracy/cupuacu.htm
[3] Minister of Counterculture – Oliver Burkeman – The Guardian – October 14, 2005
[4] We Pledge Allegiance to the Penguin – Julian Dibbell – Wired Magazine – November 2004

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