From a quick squiz at their report, the PC seems to have done an excellent job on the question of IP. It didn’t put too much effort distorting its recommendations to somehow second guess what was politically palatable and just set out the appropriate principles and their upshot.
Without having read it all carefully, I looked at the couple of chapters which had something sustained to say about our international circumstances – the way in which we’ve agreed to hem ourselves in by agreeing to all sorts of patently outrageous claims – most obviously the retrospective extension of IP which, axiomatically can only have costs, since you increasing the incentives to bring something that’s already with us can’t increase its chances of being brought into existence (it already has been). And I thought they were a bit lame. I thought they were lame because they didn’t point out how consistent a disgrace the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been to the Australian national interest on this point. As it showed in its hearings before the inquiry I was on into Pharmaceutical Patent Extensions, it hadn’t the slightest glimmering of what might be in the Australian interest, other than arguing in the first instance that we didn’t want to change any of the laws we already had. This came out when I asked them some very open ended questions in the inquiry. I asked them a very low key open ended question – what their objectives were when they were negotiating on IP and they became completely incoherent. They consulted with all and then kind of, well represented what they’d heard. What if they heard different things from different Australian interests. That pretty much stumped them.
Anyway the PC gets the basic principles right, but in an attempt to stiffen their spine on this point I wrote the following introductory letter to introduce a document I penned a few years ago trying to engage firms like Google, Facebook and other internet companies that fancy they don’t want to do evil. I even know some quite senior people in those companies in the Bay Area – including Google Chief Economist Hal Varian. But, not surprisingly for something I didn’t turn into a full time crusade, it didn’t go anywhere. In any event the introductory letter I penned to the Commission is below and the document “An international agenda for balanced IP” appears below the fold.
Saturday, 28 May 2016
To whom it may concern,
Attached is a document drafted some years ago, which I nevertheless hope will be of some interest and use to the Commission in its current labours to more fully inform debate about IP in Australia. The immediate context in which it was written meant that it addressed providers of the digital infrastructure for the internet. But the principles to which it appeals are far more general.
There appear few countervailing forces to IP mercantilism and yet it should be possible to make headway by more vigorously and self-consciously promoting the interests of all those who stand to benefit, whether they realise it or not, from resisting it. Using transparency as a weapon against the siren song of mercantilism – which as Adam Smith observed works by misleading the public into believing that their own interests coincide with the sectoral interests of a powerful minority – is part of the founding myth of the Commission.
In that spirit I am hoping that the Commission might help Australia vigorously identify its own strategic interests in resisting the more outrageous demands of the IP mercantilists, and build institutions more capable of promoting greater understanding of the issues amongst Australia’s policy and opinion makers. Further, in the spirit of its success with the Cairns group of agricultural exporters, Australia should lead the formation of a group of countries who identify their interests not with mercantilism but with policies designed to optimise national economic interests, most particularly where those policies also promote the global economic interest.
I’d be happy to appear before the Commission on this subject should it wish.