Friday, 3 August 2012

Book review: A Practical Guide to Working with TRIPS

A step back again in time as I get to grips with outstanding book reviews. This is an interesting little paperback by Antony Taubman, who as Director of the World Trade Organisation Intellectual Property Division (I assume the OUP website erred when it referred to the World Trace Organisation) is uniquely well-placed to write it.

The publisher's blurb tells us that this book "avoids extended legal analysis", an odd virtue in a book about law. But perhaps that is the point: it isn't a law book really, it's a guide to the topic for policymakers. Tellingly, the publishers don't reveal for whom it is thought to be essential reading (and publishers usually manage to make up a list that includes most literate members of the human race): they merely tell us who would be interested in this book. They include "legal practitioners operating in the international intellectual property field", but given the lack of heavy black-letter law in this slim (256 pages) and not-too-expensive (£44.95 - everything is relative: I just paid that for a pair of shoes) volume they are likely to need something a bit more substantial.

Nevertheless, I found it really interesting, which might tell you more about me than about the book but I hope counts as some sort of endorsement. And it's written with a light touch and entertaining style. Unlike most review books that come my way, this is one to read through from start to finish: it has something of a story to tell. And for most IP practitioners, TRIPS is an important part of the context rather than a substantive concern, something you need to know a bit about but the detail of which you can safely leave aside.

Of course, TRIPS is an instrument of absolutely central importance in the intellectual property world, the first attempt to create something coherent to replace what the author refers to as the "makeshift diplomatic assemblage" of GATT, and to replace diplomatic wrangling with a judicial process. It recognised properly for the first time the place of intellectual property in international trade law, but leaves the question (which I think remains unanswered) whether this approach would supplant the traditional IP model embodied in Berne, Paris and WIPO. The author asks whether the marriage of IP and trade law is one of convenience, or a shotgun affair. Is it a natural expression of policy convergence? Read Mr Taubman's book, and make up your own mind.

Another important question is whether TRIPS is a burden for developing countries with little benefit. The author ventures the opinion that because it sets out public policy goals for intellectual property it should be considered a Good Thing. Well, he doesn't say Good Thing, that was another pair of authors altogether, but that's the gist of it.

The TRIPS agreement also brings a bunch of other issues into the trade arena - traditional knowledge, human rights, property law. It has already led to a richer jurisprudence of international intellectual property, and as the original TRIPS agreement was never intended to be final word - it could hardly be that - it will continue to inform this area of law. IP enthusiasts, including most if not all practitioners, will continue to have an interest in where it takes us.

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