On tobacco plain packaging proposal in Singapore

This is my letter to the HPB yesterday. The auto reply said they have received it and will look into it.

Subject: Singapore’s plan on “Standardized packaging” of tobacco products
To: HPB_Mailbox@hpb.gov.sg

Health Promotion Board
3 Second Hospital Avenue,
Singapore 168937

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have read your campaign to control tobacco use and promote good health among Singapore citizens, it is a good objective. But I notice that you also plan to introduce or legislate “standardized packaging” or “plain packaging” in tobacco products, and I think it can adversely affect Singapore’s good image on protecting intellectual property rights (IPR).

It is true that smoking is dangerous to one’s health. I myself am not a smoker, never smoked a single stick in my whole life, never worked for the tobacco industry or its allied industries. But I think people have a choice for their body. They recognize the danger of smoking — and drinking, drugs, over-eating, sedentary lifestyle, etc. — and still they do it. They compare the health risks with the pleasure of those actions then they decide whether to continue doing it or not; if they continue, whether to smoke 1 or 20 sticks a day, drink 1 or 10 bottles of beer a day, etc.

Plain packaging (PP) is wrong for the following reasons.

  1. Singapore is known for its clear and strong property rights protection, both physical and intellectual property. Abolition or significant reduction of the trademarks and corporate logo of tobacco companies via PP will dent this image and put Singapore’s adherence to IPR protection in a question mark.
  1. If Singapore is to be consistent in its policy, then it will be pressured in the near future to also introduce PP for alcohol products like beer and whiskey, soda, chocolate bars, other high sugar, high fat content meals and snacks.
  1. People who derive pleasure in smoking will continue to smoke despite PP and they will likely shift to cheaper and illicit products. Overall smoking incidence can either flatline or even increase because tobacco companies will produce cheaper but cool-tasting products, which will attract new  smokers or entice the few-sticks-a-day smokers to become one pack a day smokers. PP will only adversely affect the sale of known and premium products of the big multinational tobacco  companies but not the cheap products of lesser known companies.
  1. If drawn in a graph, the supply curve of cheap cigarettes will move to the right as manufacturers of premium brands will soon produce lots of plain pack but cheap cigarettes. Equilibrium price goes down while equilibrium quantity goes up, even if the demand curve does not move.

Discouraging the people from smoking can be done via more public education. The graphic health warnings, campaigns by the  Ministry of Health and health NGOs or groups are part of such public education.

But some people will continue to  smoke – and over-drink, over-eat, over-sit in  sedentary lifestyle – despite learning more and new things  about the dangers of smoking, over-drinking, and so on. Government cannot micro-manage the lives of people all the  time. What Singapore should continue protecting is its image  as the bastion of IPR  protection, whether companies are in  IT, pharma, healthcare, hotels, food,  alcohol or tobacco.

Thank you very much.


Bienvenido Oplas, Jr.
President, Minimal Government Thinkers
Manila, Philippines


TPP, medicines patent and tobacco trademark

After the 4th Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) ended in Kuala Lumpur on February 20, SEANET organized a small group discussion on “business friendly regulations”, same hotel venue. I was one of those invited. Below, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS and Director of SEANET, spoke to explain once again what the meeting-seminar was all about.


Aside from independent think tank leaders from some ASEAN countries, some friends outside the region were also there, like Barun Mitra, Cris Lingle, Julian Morris, Lorenzo Montanari.

I gave a brief presentation. Brief as in 8 minutes or less.


TPP’s liberalization agenda will:

  1. Force open members’ economic sectors such as agriculture, affect poor peasants, women
  1. Further push them into poverty, compete with giant agricultural corporations from more developed countries
  1. Increase corporations’ access to indigenous people’s lands and territories for resource extraction without their free prior informed consent (FPIC)
  1. Undermine country’s right to reject genetically modified

organisms (GMOs), subject those GMOs to prior risk assessment; ensure uninterrupted trade for GMOs to the benefit of major GMO producers and exporters like the US and Canada

  1. Permit corporations to violate labor rights by making it easier to offshore jobs to countries with lower labor standards
  1. Encourage more inflows of migrants who later forced to become undocumented migrants  to add more cheaper and docile labor


  1. Endanger people’s right to quality and affordable healthcare due to strict intellectual property rights (IPR) on patents, data monopolies to medicines
  1. Make educational materials become expensive with strict IPR
  1. Violate internet users’ privacy rights and will stifle creativity and freedom of expression through severe copyright rules
  1. Mean death to democracy, allow corporations to use investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) to attack public interest laws to increase their profits; corporations suing governments over living wages, environmental protection , people’s access to public utilities
  1. Have knock-on effects on the whole region, have potential to be the standard that all future trade deals will follow
  1. Promote the hegemony of corporations, neoliberal regimes and political and economic dominance of the US and other powerful States over the developing and underdeveloped economies of the world.

Among the prominent arguments why people hate the TPP and other FTAs with the US and EU is that stronger IPR protection would mean more expensive medicines, affecting even off-patent, generic drugs. Is this true?


No. Perhaps all TRIPS flexibilities with regards to newly-invented medicines were respected by the TPPA. Like these texts, the red comments on the right are mine.

Then I added another aspect of IPR infringement, the abolition of trademarks and brand logo for cigarettes.

Concluding Notes:

  1. Joining the TPP has more gains than pains for member-countries, especially in exports and overall GDP expansion.
  1. IPR health provisions in TPP not scary, apply only to newly-invented medicines and not to cheaper generic drugs. Existing TRIPS flexibilities for new meds are maintained.
  1. Possible that generic pharma lobby + anti-capitalism, anti-globalization NGOs created more fear than what the TPPA actually provides.
  1. More to fear in government taxation of medicines, mandatory drug price discounts and price controls, than IPR protection.Brief presentation, I think I spoke for only 7-8 minutes, then the others gave their own inputs and insights on other topics. The full 14-slides presentation is available in slideshare.


Meanwhile, the debate seems raging in Malaysia now regarding their government’s plan to introduce plain packaging in tobacco products too. All these news reported since last week.

plain pack

It’s now a Singapore-Indonesia-Malaysia triumvirate of tobacco plain packaging legislation. Soon it will infect the governments and stakeholders in the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, etc. And if they succeed, next would be beer, whiskey, other alcohol products? Then chocolate bars, soda and cola. The WHO should be involved in this new government initiatives. I will follow this development.

ALF 2016, Panel on property rights

The 4th Asia Liberty Forum 2016, #AsiaLF16, has successfully ended in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday night. Among the important panel discussions was the one on “Protecting Yourself Against Daylight Robbery — Current Challenges to Property Rights”.

Photo below, holding the microphone is Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS Malaysia, who chaired the discussion. The speakers from left:  (1) Lorenzo Montanari of Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Washington DC, USA; (2) Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, India; (3) Kriengsak Chareonwongsak of the Institute of Future Studies for Development, Thailand; and (4) Julian Morris of Reason Foundation, USA.

Lorenzo spoke about the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) annual reports, especially the latest, 2015 Report.

Barun talked about fighting for property rights of poor rural workers and households in their tilled land in India.

Julian talked about IPR, especially of trademarks and company branding. His paper title was witty, “Marks vs. Marx”, the former refer to trademarks, the latter refer to IPR confiscation and stealing/socialization.

Among the slides shown by Julian. An example of a medicine whose products and corporate brand/logo was copied and stolen to sell substandard or fake medicines, which can have serious or even fatal consequences to patients.

Plain packaging.png
Plain packaging of cigarettes, the logo and brands of Winfield and Marlboro were removed, only their product name is displayed. Further below, when plain packaging is applied on softdrinks/soda and beer.

I don’t smoke, never smoked my entire life, I derive zero pleasure in smoking, but I respect other people’s decision to smoke. It’s their life, their body, they can do whatever they want with their life so long as they do not harm other people, like puffing heavy smoke in an enclosed room with many non-smokers inside.

I think people should not smoke, but if they decide to smoke because they derive some pleasure in smoking — the same way that I derive pleasure in drinking with friends, frequently when I was still a bachelor, and seldom now with a family and 2 young girls — then their freedom to choose which cigarette products or brands to take should not be curtailed by the government.

After all, the government is a huge hypocrite institution that says “promote public health, discourage smoking and drinking” on the left hand, then happily and gleefully collects billions of pesos or dollars of “sin tax” revenues every year from more smokers on the right hand.

Meanwhile, I am thankful again to EFN Asia and FNF regional office for giving me a travel grant to attend the 4th ALF. Thanks Siggi, Pett, Jules.

Growth, IPRI 2015 and the TPP

Two weeks ago, I attended the launching of  the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) 2015 Report in Kuala Lumpur, then I also gave a short presentation on IPR and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.

I showed portions of Dr. Ramon Clarete (University of the Philippines School of Economics, UPSE) paper during the UPSE-Ayala forum, Going Regional: Which Mega Trade Deals Should the Philippines Join? last February 2015.

He used the Gravity model of trade in estimating the level of bilateral exports or imports between two trading partners.

* Dependent variable: flow of trade between and among countries studied

* Independent or explanatory variables, their expected signs or relationships: GDP (+), population (+), dist. between two countries (-), commonality of language (+), shared borders (+), landlocked state (-).

* In addition, TPP and RCEP indicators or dummy variables are introduced: (a) TB1, 1 if both trading countries are TPP or RCEP members, 0 otherwise, (b) TB2, 1 if exporting country is a TPP or RCEP member, 0 otherwise; (c) TB3, 1 if importing country is a TPP or RCEP member, 0 otherwise. For overlapping memberships, a dummy variable where TPP*RCEP =1 if both trading partners are members of the two trade blocs.

And here are some results.

Then I briefly discussed my article in BusinessWorld that day, Property rights protection in APEC economies. Then I discussed the IPR on medicines aspect of the TPP.


And showed actual texts in the TPP agreement….


Below, from left: Lorenzo Montanari, Exec. Dir. of the Property Rights Alliance (PRA); Dr. Sary Levy, author of IPRI 2015, and Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS and Director, SEANET.


Concluding Notes:

1. Joining the TPP has more gains than pains for member-countries, especially in exports and overall GDP expansion.

2. IPR health provisions in TPP are not scary, they do not reduce access to cheaper generic drugs. Existing TRIPS flexibilities are maintained.

3. It seems that the generic pharma lobby + the anti-capitalism, anti-globalization NGOs created more noise and fear than what the TPPA actually provides.

4. There is more to fear in government taxation of medicines, in mandatory drug price discounts and price controls, than IPR protection.

“IPR create incentives for businesses to invest in ideas, to develop new products, and to earn a profit from the sale of those products. This in turn leads to improved customer satisfaction, improved profitability, and greater employment opportunities.”
– Prof. Sinclair Davidson, RMIT Univ. (Econ Dept.), Melbourne, Australia.

The full presentation is posted here.

India strengthening its IPR protection

There are a number of positive news in India recently regarding strengthening its intellectual property right (IPR) protection. Among the most recent was the article at The Hill by Mark Elliot, the EVP of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC). He wrote,

The ultimate goal – both for India and for all nations striving to foster economic growth and global competitiveness – is to put in place policies which lay the groundwork for the creation of a true knowledge-based economy.  For that to happen, the government must create guidelines which provide greater legal certainty for private sector investors, create a viable technology transfer mechanism, and foster greater enforcement of legislation aimed at protecting IP-intensive industries in India. Each of these factors, in turn, will support the creation of a robust innovation ecosystem, one from which India surely has the most to gain.

Then a report from NDTV, India to protect intellectual property rights, PM Modi  tells media heads,

“This is a technology driven era. We are a technology driven society… We are committed to protecting IPR which is essential to fostering creativity,” PM Modi said. In May, the US had kept India and China on its Priority Watch List of trading partners that fail to protect intellectual property rights of its enterprises that invest in India, hurting the economy.

1And this news from The Hindu,

1bThanks to those pieces of good news. It is not possible to have more revolutionary and costly innovations in many sectors and sub-sectors of an economy if the inventors and innovators cannot internalize the rewards of success and the losses of failures, simply because a horde of copy-catters are just milling around to say later on, “we also invented that” and do good business even if they contributed nothing to the discovery of new molecules, industrial and circuit designs, new songs and books, and so on.

Meanwhile, Pugatch-Consilium released its new report, the Biopharmaceutical Competitiveness and Investment (BCI) Survey 2015. From the few selected countries covered by the report, here is the summary of BCI scores and ranking. India ranked 11th out of the 15 countries surveyed.

2For India in particular, a score below 60 means that it is non-competitive in biopharmaceutical research, clinical trials and investments.

3The US Chambers’ GIPC also released the supplementary statistical charts and analysis, Unlimited Potential, also prepared by Pugatch-Consilium. Below, the report plotted the data of the GIPC Index Score and the Global Innovation Index 2014.

While Singapore, S. Korea and Japan scored high, India and Indonesia scored low, though not as low as Nigeria’s.

4Also a plot of GIPC index score and Online creativity score, and India and Indonesia scored low, though not as low as Nigeria’s.

Hence, the recent pronouncements by PM Modi. He needs to counter the low or negative image of India when it comes to respecting and protecting the various products of the mind and intellectual entrepreneurship.

The main role of government in this case is to lay down rules that are fair and transparent to all players, to protect private property whether they are physical or non-physical/intellectual.

IPRI 2011 Report

Originally posted on March 29, 2011.
Security of property rights is also security of individual freedom. Private property is private property. It can never be collective or government property. Otherwise, our car or cell phone is never our car or cell phone. Other guys can also say that it is also their own car or cell phone and they can get or confiscate such property from us. And we shall have zero peace and order in society.

It is good therefore, that the Property Rights Alliance (PRA) in the US has consistently sponsored the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) annual reports.

The overall IPRI score is derived from 3 main factors and their sub-factors, as indicated here. The sources of data were plenty and countries or economies are given a particular score depending on how respectful they are of each of the sub-factors given.

Every year, the number of countries covered by the IPRI Reports keeps increasing. This is a result of more reliable and more comparable data getting more available.

The result of IPRI 2009 Report, I wrote in Property rights and lefts (Part 1) last March 02, 2009. Out of the 115 countries covered by the report, the Philippines scored an overall index of 4.5, making it rank no. 74 (74/115) or belonging to the 4th quintile. What pulled down the Philippines’ overall ranking then was its very low score in Legal and Political Environment (LP). I made the following concluding observation,

It is not healthy therefore, for an economy to embrace left-leaning policies that attempt to disrespect individual talents and performance, and forcibly collectivize things. Property rights is not a result of positive accidents that allowed the rights owner/s to own and control something without hard or meaningful work. Neither is it a privilege that was bestowed by the gods of the earth to their current right owners. Leftism cannot guarantee the respect and expansion of private property rights.

The IPRI 2010 Report was released in February last year. I wrote about it in Part 2 last February 27, 2010. Out of the 125 countries covered in last year’s report, the Philippines did not show any improvement in score, still the same at overall index of 4.5, making it rank no. 80 (80/125) and hence, still belonged to the 4th quintile.

I concluded that article with the following statements:

For sure, big corruption and plunder scandals in government, plus policy reversals last year like strong attempts to re-regulate the petroleum industry and actual drug price control, contributed to the low belief by entrepreneurs and the citizens of the government’s ability to really promulgate the rule of law. Populism and leftism, the synonym concepts of socialism, will push any country towards economic underdevelopment. Private property is not public or government property. Private enterprises’ pricing should not be tinkered as government pricing.

This year’s IPRI 2011 Report was released last week. It was written by Kyle Jackson, a PhD Economics student at George Mason University (GMU). Kyle actually invited me to contribute a short discussion on property rights and the real property tax (RPT) imposed by local governments in the Philippines. It was a big mistake on my part that I did not send him a discussion paper about the subject. But nonetheless, I am happy that Kyle was able to pull a comprehensive research work in this year’s Report.

Four more countries were added to those covered in the 2010 Report, so that a total of 129 countries are covered this year. And once again, the strong link between economic development and property rights protection has been re-established.

Kelsey Zahourek, the indefatigable Executive Director of PRA, beautifully summarized the importance of this annual exercise:

… the protection of both physical and intellectual property is equally important in nature. Individual freedom, economic expansion and job creation depend on securing property rights. Patents, trademarks and copyrights provide inventors and great thinkers with the ability to be rightly rewarded for their innovations. Likewise, land rights provide empowerment through ownership, allowing citizens to utilize and prosper from their investment. Economic growth only occurs when property, in all forms, is respected and protected.

For the 3rd year in a row since the 2009 Report, our think tank, Minimal Government Thinkers has remained as one of the many free market think tanks from around the world that co-sponsored the publication and dissemination of the IPRI Report. We are also the only Philippine-based think tank among this prestigious list, about 67 independent think tanks from many countries.

Ok, so how did the Philippines and other East and South Asian countries fared and ranked with the rest in protecting private property rights?

03. Singapore

13. Hong Kong

16. Japan

23. Taiwan

38. S. Korea

44. Malaysia

54. Brunei

55. India

60. China

64. Thailand

77. Indonesia

77. Sri Lanka

81. Vietnam

87. Philippines

100. Nepal

113. Pakistan

125. Bangladesh

It is definitely disgusting to see your country slipping from an already low rank in last year’s Report to an even lower rank in this year’s Report. What happened?

The Philippines (87/129, still in the 4th quintile) government — then under former President Gloria Arroyo as the data used were for 2008-2010 to allow for global comparison across many countries — has become more confiscatory? Or more private individuals, groups or corporations have become more confiscatory while the Philippine government was just watching? Or the other countries that ranked lower than the Philippines last year simply improved significantly this year, jumping us overhead while many Filipinos were busy with the elections and all the drama and political stunts associated with the elections?

Whatever is the reason, unless we Filipinos will fully understand and respect private property rights, physical or intellectual property, more countries currently in the cellar will slowly overtake us in this important global ranking. Vietnam and Sri Lanka already overtook us.

IPR abolition, papers in May 2011

Reposting my papers written in May 2011.

(1) On anti-drug patents.

A number of libertarians call IPR as “intellectual monopoly rights.” They argue that IPR is “evil because granting artificial rights to non-property restricts everyone else’s property rights.”

One such article is by Jock Coats in the Adam Smith Institute blog. Coats’ short paper, Intellectual property: an unnecessary evil, argues further that

…”intellectual property” is a contemporary conceit to conceal crude market interference through state granted privilege with the flimsiest gossamer of respectability. The primary origins of patents lie in maintaining the state’s coffers, and of copyright in state censorship of ideas.

Property rights arise from a desire to prevent conflict over scare resources. Ideas, patterns, recipes and processes are non-scarce. Intellectual monopoly laws impose different time periods and restrictions…

19th century libertarians ranked Intellectual Monopoly as state created privilege that impoverishes the majority. We should heed them: they are still destructive, unnecessary, statist and evil.

It was a friend in facebook, a young German liberal thinker, who posted that article. I mentioned to him that top anti-IP libertarians like Stephan Kinsella want the abolition of all forms of IP — copyright, patent, etc. They argue that ideas can never be owned. If I am an aspiring rock or rap star, I composed several good rock/rap songs, then I cannot say “I own” those songs. My friend replied,

You will still be recognized as the producer of that song and be able to make money with it, even without IP protection (contract law is sufficient). And with modern technology it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect IP and in the process of protecting them you are causing more harm to the principles of liberalism/libertarianism than otherwise. And by composing a rap song you will undoubtedly use some other form of IP in the process and should you not pay royalties to the inventor of rap? That seems absurd. And your song won’t be scarce, if I copy it, I’m not taking anything away from you. Earning money will be more difficult for you, I grant that. But doesnt that create an incentive for quick production of new IP? This will create more dynamism and make it more difficult for monopolies to emerge, a major criticism of market-sceptics. And physical property – which must be protected – is being attacked on by protection of IP, as the ways you can use the former can be limited throuh IP protection.

I suggested in my earlier paper that it should be up to the IP owner if he wants to share his invention for free, or to be protected. Very often, the cost of enforcement is much much larger than the benefits of full enforcement, say of fighting song piracy, so many IP owners, except the big ones like The Beatles and U2 perhaps, won’t bother full enforcement of their IPR.

I think the bigger debate on IPR is on expensive inventions like drug molecules. If the cost of inventing a new beer molecule (or compound of molecules) is not very high, then the new beer inventor/s may not press for full IPR protection. But in the case of drug molecules where the average industry cost of producing one successful molecule (successful meaning safe, hurdled dozens of clinical trials, and effective as killer of a particular disease) is up to $1 B, then such inventors will try to seek full IPR protection whenever possible.

One big opposition to IPR by the libertarians, liberals, anarchists and other shades of free marketers, is that it is a government (usually the Intellectual Property Office) that gives IPR. If that is a big problem for them, then it can be solved by having a private entity, say a federation of industry players, that can give such IPR.

Do the anti-IP people consider a molecule or an atom as “non-tangible”? I still have to dig about this. But for me, a newly-invented molecule (or compound of molecules), say a drug molecule, tire molecule, beer molecule, etc. are tangibles. Water is a tangible object, it is composed of 2 atoms of hydrogen and 1 atom of oxygen (H2O).

Related to health, a molecular invention, say a new anti-cancer drug, a new weight-loss food supplement, a new skin whitener, etc., the bigger the cost of inventing them. Inventors and manufacturers have to entertain the possibility that they can be sued someday by their customers if the latter will suffer some adverse health results, or at least if the promised “miracle” did not happen. If there is huge costs in the R&D of such drugs or food supplement or ointment, if there is huge costs in possible future legal battles over the safety of such new products, then the inventors and manufacturers need to price their new invention at a higher level, via the temporary monopoly period (a patent, copyright, etc.).

Some anti-IP libertarians can unwittingly merge ideologically with the leftists and socialists in arguing for the eradication of IPR in drugs. The higher price of new and patented drugs compared to off-patent and older ones is, for them, proof of the evil of IPR. And this is another dangerous mistake that free marketers from whatever shade should avoid committing. Pricing is a private property right. It can never be communal or government right.

(2) PRPX forum in Sydney, 2010

The attack against intellectual property (IP) and IPR is coming from all directions, particularly from the socialists (social and collective property rights, not private property rights) and the libertarians, the anarchist wing in particular (ideas cannot be owned, IPRs are state-issued that further expand the state). I do not know how long this trend has been, I just notice them as some friends just email them to me, or post them in my facebook wall.

One such literature is Bourbon for Breakfast: Living outside the statist quoby Jeffrey Tucker of Mises Institute in Alabama. The (3rd) chapter on Technology is about IP, although the focus is on copyright of books.

Last September 30, 2010, during the 4th Pacific Rim Policy Exchange in Sydney, Australia, one of the panel discussions was on IP, Jobs and the Economy. One of two speakers there was Michael Williams (in this picture) of Gilbert + Tobin law office in Sydney. His paper was entitled Resisting populist calls for a wind back of IP laws and showing leadership in the promotion of IP laws.

I show here 3 of his 7-slides presentation. Click the slides to get a larger image.

Mr. Williams’ concern though, is more with the socialists and anti-capitalist individuals and groups, especially academics, who regard private property rights in general, and IPR in particular, as extension of exploitation and mass disenfranchisement by capitalism. He did not discuss the equally anti-IP sentiment by some libertarians.

Here he showed one law enacted 302 years ago, theStatute of Anne 1709, giving property rights to authors of printed books. I observe from several literatures of the anti-IP writers, their argument that “IP = monopoly”. Since monopoly is evil, then IP is also evil. I will grant that this is a correct proposition if we are talking about an industry or sub-industry monopoly. Say a monopoly in telecommunication, a monopoly in music industry, monopoly in movie industry, and so on.

But I think there is nothing in the IP laws that says “All rock songs (or all action movies, all science fiction books, all anti-hypertension drugs, all racetrack tires,…) are copyrighted by ______ company for its exclusive use, sale, transfer, for __ years.” What the IP laws say is that “one copyright for each rock song by each rock band/singer” and there are 1,000 or 100,000 rock bands and singers worldwide producing 100,000 or 1 million rock songs.

Mr. Michaels correctly asserted that “The attempted wind back of IPR is an attack on rights of personal property.” An IPR vested on each author, or composer, inventor, innovator, does not automatically mean that each author or inventor will go for exclusive use and control of his IP work or molecular invention. It is possible that he will waive his IPR and monopoly right of use and share his work with the rest of humanity for free.

The security of an IPR is reserved for those inventors and composers/authors who think they are better recognized and compensated (financially, intellectually, culturally, etc.) if an IPR is granted upon them.

Mr. Michaels concluded that “The recognition of IPR is consistent with the pursuit of democracy, property rights and economic development… Now is the time to strengthen IP laws to drive technological development in the digital age and to provide certainty for investment in the future.”

Amen to that.

(3) Comments to  #2 above.

After posting #2 above in my facebook wall, it attracted a number of comments. For brevity purposes, I will enumerate the comments and questions from 6 friends – Froilan, Say, Siegfried, Marvin, Dominic and Donaldson. Here they are:

1. Here’s a libertarian’s comment on this group: “Lets put it this way… I bought a book from a great author and I love to share it with my friends and relatives for free, re-print it using my paper, ink, printing machine, my valuable time and produces 100 the same copy with the full name of the author and title. And the author is nowhere to be found or maybe he’s already dead. Still I have no right?” SO EVIL!

In a society that respects property rights, which include IP rights, no one may infringe upon anyone’s right (copyright, patent right, etc.) however noble the intention. But in an anarchic society, reprinting copies of an author’s book even without the latter’s consent either for good intention or for profit is deemed perfectly “moral” [and legal].

2. What does one actually own under an intellectual property rights regime? I believe ownership of property can only be physical ownership. Under a property rights regime, I own physical stuff like chairs and houses. Under an intellectual property rights regime, what do I physically own?

3. As to IPRs, I do feel they are materially different, and intrinsically weaker, than property rights in land and goods, simply because land and goods can only be used by one person at a time, while intellectual goods can be used by multitudes simultaneously. IPRs sole justification is thus a claim on the fruits of one’s labour, which is important but has to be balanced by the need to avoid socially harmful extended monopolies that pre-empt potentially beneficial markets. There is considerable scope for misuse when IPRs are claimed without an intention to use the invention, just to pre-empt competitors, or when farmers are not allowed to produce their own seedgrain from patented seeds, to cite two notorious examples. And the extension of Disney’s IPR to Mickey Mouse by the US Congress shows how open this all is to political manipulation.

4. I agree with your blog’s general direction from an evolutionary economics (neo-Schumpeterian) point of view.

In the present world, much ‘intellectual property’ is the result of conscious effort and work not just of individuals but also of institutions like R&D laboratories or research universities – new knowledge comes more and more from the work of teams. Some form of IP protection provides incentives for such innovation work to happen. Societies that provide the fairest protection, like the U.S., Switzerland, EU, become the most innovative and therefore best able to deliver rising living standards to its citizens. Two examples:

a) For drugs and medicine, the safety and efficacy standards of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect the populace from quacks and snake oil salesmen require a fixed stress test period of seven years that is quite expensive and a big barrier (and still gives incomplete protection for cases like mutative risks from toxic compounds – mercury- or lead-based – that accumulate in the parent but affect the offspring, i.e. thalidomide or nicotine/saccharine that are consumed in minute quantities and take up to thirty years to become high risk of local cancer to the consumer).

If one agrees that the FDA provides value to society, in concept, then drug developers ought to be given enough time to obtain returns on their directed effort to develop drugs.

Even this reasonable period may still not be enough without government spending on the science research (not just application development) that requires finding new and basic knowledge that are not appropriable to discoverers, not in the best interest of society to provide temporary monopoly cover, or too expensive for even large corporations or countries to invest. Four examples – (a) Manhattan project for national defense in the development of the atomic bomb, (b) DARPA project for alternative distributed command-and-control channel in case of nuclear that was eventually released to the public domain in 1995 when risk from war with the Soviet Union to become the Internet/WWW, (c) CERN collider in Europe to discover the behavior of atomic particles for leading-edge Physics, and (d) mapping the human genome for future development on next level gene-based drugs.

b) Thus far, patents that provide temporary monopoly protection for about seventeen years (that in the case of drugs 7-10 years are already used in the approval process) and seem to be the fairest and at the same time most advantageous to society in providing incentives for innovation.

Obviously, there is some administration needed to do this in behalf of the total population and thus taxes to pay for such administration. As mentioned above, the U.S. patent system, on the whole, provided fair protection and created the richest and most innovative society.

With the recent crises, some budget proposals are made to gut the U.S. Patent Office under the general ideological rubric, without looking at the details, of creating small government.

Let us watch the reduction of U.S. dominance in having 19 out of 20 top universities in the world and the migration of research laboratories overseas now happening (as pull in) because of the search for talent but maybe accelerating in the future because of lack of IP protection from patents (as push out).

5. So I’m going to warn a friend who is passionately creating and innovating a device that will surely help his father because of disability. He might get sued…. As Mr. Michaels concluded that “The recognition of IPR is consistent with the pursuit of democracy, property rights and economic development… Now is the time to strengthen IP laws to drive technological development in the digital age and to provide certainty for investment in the future.”

Are we asking here for more Government intervention? I think the drive for technological development and advancement will come from the market, the competition, not from more regulations.

6. The intellectual property regime is full of grey areas.

Here are my response and rejoinder to the above six comments and questions.

On #1, I think that even if the author is alive, is around nearby, he won’t mind that his book is being copied and distributed for free to more people. What he would object would be if his book is copied and sold for a good price or profit by some guys.

On #2, In the IP regime, one owns ideas, an invention, a composition, a molecule or compound of molecules. Ideas are ownable. For instance, one  million rock songs from 100,000 rock bands and singers worldwide, one million copyrights (on each of those songs), what’s wrong with this? Invention of drug molecule to control if not kill breast cancer, such molecule is a product of hard work, huge investments, long R&D work, involving several dozen scientists. In a No-IP regime, anybody can also claim, “I also invented that useful drug molecule” even if they spent not a single $ for its discovery.

On #3, Patented seeds number in millions. Rice seeds in the IRRI seed bank alone, should be several tens or hundreds of thousands, each may be patented. The reason for the expansion of so many different seeds is biotechnology and agri- or bio-engineering. The seed patent system has encouraged thousands of seed scientists to invent new breeds, new varieties, with very specific properties. Say a rice with vitamin C, a rice harvestable in just 2 1/2 months, a drought-resistant rice that can survive with just few days of rain up to harvest. On Mickey’s patent, thanks for it, other cartoon producers simply say, “So we cannot use Mickey for our tv program? We will just invent our own cartoon characters.” That is why Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Pooh, Dora, Dibo, Pocoyo, Pororo, Angelina Ballerina, Chuggington, Little Einsteins, Barbie, and several dozen other cartoon characters were invented. All competing with each other, and little kids today know more cartoon characters than 2 or 3 decades ago. The IP mini-monopoly system created more and more products and services, more innovators, all competing with each other.

On #4, Amen to your points, Marvin.

On #5, Don’t warn your friend, encourage him to pursue it. Each invention, especially health related, requires some form of “clinical trials”. If he succeeds in his invention to help his father, he can show it as proof, he can go to IPO and register his invention for IP recognition, only if he wants it. Or he can share it with the rest of humanity, no problem on both actions. Re Michael Williams’ concluding note, No, no need for “additional” government intervention. The interventions and regulations are already there. What he is referring to, is for governments not to bend to the anti-IP academics and socialists to relax if not abolish the IP system.

On #6, Yes, IP has lots of grey areas. But if we focus on “more private ownership, more capitalism; more social ownership, more socialism”, I think we can reduce the grey areas and limit the debate to a few issues.