Africa: EU Criticised for Failure to Transfer Technology

European countries contribute less to global technological development than other developed nations, and are pursuing intellectual property policies that are not "development friendly", according to a study.

European nations conduct most of the world's research and development (R&D) and own most of the globe's intellectual property (IP) rights, and new policy measures are needed to make them contribute more to development, says the paper published by the US-based think-tank the Center for Global Development.

It examined the commitment of 21 European countries and four non-European developed countries to promoting technology transfer to developing nations.

European countries were lagging behind Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States in providing such support, it found.

In addition, European IP policies have become stronger in recent years, and countries are "instituting changes that are not likely to be development friendly", the study says.

Walter Park, co-author of the study and professor of economics at the US-based American University, says that developing countries need access to digital technologies to keep pace with the rest of the world.

"Cloud computing and nanotechnology are coming in, and these economies will fall further behind if they don't have access to that," he says.

Park says that Europe has a formal obligation to support the technological development of the developing world. The Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, a 1995 international agreement administered by the World Trade Organization, requires developed country members to ensure that technologies spread to the developing world, he says.

But Park says policymakers in the European Union (EU) are listening to the strong lobbying forces of IP owners rather than those who argue that increased access is more conducive to innovation.

The study authors are urging European policymakers to relax their strict IP laws.

Petra Krylová, programme coordinator at the Center for Global Development, says: "We aim to increase the debate and hopefully arrive at some changes within either European or country-level legislation on technology."

The study also says that the EU should increase public R&D in technology areas that most benefit developing countries, such as medicines for neglected diseases, nutrition, and climate change.

In addition, it says that European governments encourage technology transfer by providing firms with tax incentives or subsidies to transfer technologies abroad. The report says these incentives should target the least developed economies, not just fast-growing, high-income developing economies, such as Brazil, China, India or Singapore.

An official EU international technology transfer office could oversee and implement technology transfer obligations, the report's authors say.

A key barrier to global technology development arises from pressure from the EU for developing countries to concede on provisions decided on in the original TRIPS agreement through 'TRIPS Plus' bilateral agreements, often in the form of free trade agreements. These further delay the entry of certain technologies into the public domain, says Park, because they lengthen how long for IP holders retain the patent on their technology.

Burcu Kilic, from the Global Access to Medicine Program at Public Citizen, a non-profit lobby group in the United States, says: "Free trade agreements require TRIPS Plus provisions, which are stronger and stricter than TRIPS. For example, [the standard] patent term is 20 years but in most of the FTAs there's a provision for patent term extension."

Helle Aagaard, European policy and advocacy advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières' Access Campaign, says that, for instance, EU pressure on India to accept TRIPS Plus provisions in FTAs threatens access to affordable life-saving medicines for millions of patients in developing countries - not just in India.

Link to paper

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