IP in the Caribbean: The Need for Regional Solidarity
Part 1 of this series introduced some of the key issues in the world of Caribbean IPR. Part 2 will take a look at the need for increased regional co-operation and the role of CARICOM in leveraging IP regulation for development.
The Jamaica Gleaner recently published an article by IP analyst and scholar, Abiola Inniss. The article, titled CARICOM and Intellectual Property Law: What Next?, made a timely appeal for a greater response from CARICOM on intellectual property laws and policies in the region.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is a regional organization, operated via a central secretariat that promotes co-ordination among its member states through shared policies, economic relations, and the mobilising of resources. CARICOM’s flagship project is the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), which is intended to facilitate the free intraregional movement of labour, capital, goods, and services via co-ordinated trade policies and the harmonisation of laws including “company, intellectual property and other laws” (CARICOM, 2011). Unfortunately, the CSME has not yet been realized in its entirety.
Now, while the implementation of IPR policy is no magic bullet solution that will suddenly ignite a blaze of productivity throughout the Caribbean, for any real development of trade and innovation to take place, an adequate legislative framework is necessary.
The developing nations of the Caribbean continue to face external pressures to implement WTO standards under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. These pressures have come in the form of threats of sanction, withholding of aid, and diplomatic intimidation (Inniss, 2015). As Inniss points out in her article, some nations have resisted these pressures, while others have made a hasty show of implementing TRIPS, seeking to raise themselves in the estimation of the international community.
However, a big issue in the region is inconsistency. TRIPS compliance varies across CARICOM countries, with only a few operating local IP offices. Given that the allotted time frame for TRIPS implementation came to an end in December 1999, as a region, the Caribbean has not kept pace with global economic and trade standards. While Belize and Jamaica have more sophisticated IP regimes, Guyana continues to face the challenges of outdated and ineffectual regulation. In Guyana, copyright infringement is classified as a civil wrong rather than a criminal offence (Inniss, 2012). Several of the existing copyright laws in the Anglophone Caribbean have been inherited from the colonial past. Many of the laws on the books are old British laws that desperately need to be modernized. IP regulations administered by large international agencies, such as the WTO and the United Nations, often misunderstand the struggles of small developing economies, working to the advantage of larger, developed nations. Rather than wholesale implementation, adaptations must be made to ensure existing administration speaks to the contemporary Caribbean situation. In some cases, neither the resources nor the political will exist to see this implementation through.
As Inniss points out in her article, “The aspirations to a single market and economy carry with them the recognition that there must be adequate responses to the requirements of the world economic order and conditions, whatever those may be” (Inniss, 2015). Inconsistent IP standards throughout the Caribbean spell excessive red tape for potential applicants and those seeking to do business intra-regionally. A central IP office would facilitate an easier application process for licenses that would be effective across jurisdictions and more in line with global standards.
The commodification of intangible goods has made IPR regulations imperative to the functioning of the world economic market. Elsewhere Inniss writes that the silence of international agencies and developed economies on involving CARICOM states in new partnerships, agreements, or trends indicates the region’s being left out of the march of world affairs, “CARICOM is faced with the choice to either sink or swim” (Inniss, 2012)
IP regulation is necessary to strengthen innovation and creativity by ensuring protection and economic returns for creators. The words ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ have real meaning here as regional solidarity affords greater bargaining power on the world stage, putting nations in better stead to address the legacy historical inequalities visited upon the Caribbean and open up pathways to development.
Inniss, A. (2015, January 18). CARICOM and intellectual property law: what next? The Jamaica Gleaner.
Inniss, A. (2012). International Intellectual Property Law and Policy: Can the Caribbean Region Capitalize on Current Global Developmental Trends in Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation Policies? W.I.P.O.J, 239-256.