Antony Taubman, director of the World Trade Organization Intellectual Property Division, has been in a good position to view the world and intellectual property for some time. Today, designated as World IP Day, we caught up with him to ask his views on the theme this year. For those of us working on the dimensions of IP law and policy that are of concern to the wider community, the need has become paramount to translate between increasingly complex, technical subject matter and major, overarching public policy issues. A major difficulty we encounter in reaching out beyond a familiar circle of experts to the public at large is, in essence, how to translate between two distinct forms of discourse, two modes of speaking about the IP system.
It has always been challenge to make IP law and policy intelligible to the wider community, it is an irreducibly complex field, subject to technicalities and legal nuances, and characterized by diversity in national system. In earlier times, it might have been left to expert to ponder in relative obscurity. It’s an area of absorbing interest and abiding concern for many.
Initiatives like World IP Day help bring IP to the attention of the public, valuably reinforcing the sense that we all have a stake in the IP system. But we also have to acknowledge that the wider public naturally won’t have the time, the bandwidth, and the sheer endurance to master the technicalities of IP law. The challenge for all of us working in the field is therefore to come up with a credible, coherent, inclusive way of translating between the lofty policies aspirations of the IP system and the geeky technical details.
That for me is a large part of what’s going on in the innumerable meetings on IP matters that take place here in Geneva. It’s not always evident, and if you simply read the reports of some of the meetings, you would imagine there are unbridgeable divides: but I don’t think that state of affairs is inevitability.
After many years of debate, there’s still a vast amount of listening, learning, and thoughtful communication needed to carry us forward. Indeed, that’s why I characterize the challenge as almost one of literally translating between two languages: recognizing that technical jargon and specialized discourse is unavoidable when working at an expert level, but recognizing that this is not the right register or pitch to use when talking about fundamental issues – environment, health, inclusiveness in the knowledge economy, core notions of recognition and equitable balance – it’s not going to bridge the gaps in understanding that can dominate discussion.
So World IP Day helps us focus on what is to me the defining challenge of IP policy today: how to communicate to the wider community credible, factually well-founded, and accessible ideas about the principles of IP, and how to sustain inclusive, respectful and informed debate about the practical application of these principles in the real world.