A2K and Nanotech

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Much has been said about nano-divide and its impacts. In my previous post I have explained that nanotechnology will make comparative advantage in terms of natural resources to be obsolete and, on the other hand accelerate the trend toward corporate ring concentration of power and monopoly formation. I have explained that one way to mitigate nano divide is by ensuring unimpeded access to knowledge, obligating tech transfer and limiting intellectual property protection. As I have mentioned earlier, some have tried to do this by formalizing it into a treaty. The draft is known as "draft access to knowledge treaty".

Talks on how IPR should be limited started in 2004 when Argentine and Brazil submitted a proposal to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)'s General Assembly for a new subsidiary body within WIPO to look at ways to ensure effective technology transfer to developing countries, along the lines of what has been done at the World Trade Organization and the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The proposal highlights the prospect of an “international regime” to promote developing countries’ access to publicly funded research in developed countries. 

This issue was supported in the Geneva Declaration on the Future of the World Intellectual Property Organization. WIPO agreed to take into account the Agenda through its decision. In May 2005, through "second-track diplomacy" experts and NGOs met in London for a second round of negotiations with a view to drawing up a draft treaty on access to knowledge (A2K).

The May 9th Draft of A2K treaty consists of 12 parts. Article 1(1) states that the objective of the treaty is to "protect and enhance [expand] access to knowledge, and to facilitate the transfer of technology to developing countries". In the field of copyright law, the draft treaty establishes that copyright shall not apply to the use of relevant excerpts for academic purposes, library archives and internet search engines. In the area of patents, the draft treaty states that patents shall not be applied to computer programs, methods for treatment of the human or animal body by surgery or therapy and diagnostic methods practiced on the human or animal body, as well as methods of teaching and education. Many provisions in the A2K are beneficial to developing countries. Article 3-12 provides for the compulsory licensing of copyrighted work in developing countries. Part 9 provides for the transfer of technology to developing countries.

Provisions regulating patents (which said that it should not apply to computer program) and provisions regulating tech transfer is particularly relevant for Molecular Nanotechnology. As explained previously, software patenting has created many problems and hamper knowldge development.  

We still don't know whether this draft can make it into treaty. Even if it doesnt make it into treaty due to the lack of support from developed nations, some of its key provision can be embodied in other international instrument that deals with nanotechnology in the future. If we want nanotech to be a "heritage of mankind", we really should take into account A2Ks principles in designing Nanotech's legal landscape in the future.

Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani

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