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Co-edited by Antony Taubman, Director of the Intellectual Property, Government Procurement and Competition Division at the WTO, and Jayashree Watal, Honorary Professor at the National Law University of Delhi and former WTO Counsellor, the publication offers a fresh understanding of what it means to trade in knowledge in today’s technological and commercial environment.

Drawing together insights from a diverse range of leading international scholars and analysts, the publication explores how to build more inclusive, up-to-date and precise ways of measuring knowledge flows, discusses how more nuanced and effective use of these data may guide policymakers and provides insights into the prospects for knowledge-based social and economic development, moving legacy models and adapting to the realities of the contemporary knowledge economy. The book also proposes ideas for updated systems of governance that promote positive sum approaches to the creation and sharing of the benefits of knowledge as a public good, with a view to informing planning for development.

In her opening remarks, DG Okonjo-Iweala noted the extraordinary transformation in the past quarter-century in the way knowledge is diffused, traded and shared internationally as well as the impact of digital disruption, which has created promising new opportunities but also fresh concerns about the equity and openness of the business models the technology brought into being. 

“It is timely to have a fresh appraisal of the role of intellectual property rights in international trade and the knowledge economy. This is all the more pertinent today, as we begin to turn our minds to the challenge of 'building back better' in the wake of the economic and social catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said DG Okonjo-Iweala. “The evolution to digital ways of working, for many of us, was suddenly accelerated through the impact of lockdowns and travel constraints. This experience brings into sharp focus the challenges, the opportunities, the inequities and the obstacles of a rapidly transforming knowledge economy — the promise of easier access to the fruits of new knowledge, and the challenges in fulfilling that promise.”

DG Okonjo-Iweala noted that despite the enormous challenges confronting policymakers around the globe, there is the enticing prospect of more equitable and practicable market access opportunities for creative industries and technology innovators from across the developing world. “And we know also that global value chains offer considerable benefits in the form of knowledge spillovers and technology transfer,” she said. 

Antony Taubman explained the background to the book, which had its genesis in numerous conversations with policymakers and developing country government officials on how to make the knowledge economy work for them and for sustainable development.

“The very nature of trade is being redefined and diversified, simply through the practical effect of technological change. And we are seeing the ways of harvesting social and economic benefits, from trade and from the intellectual property system, also being redefined and diversified,” Mr Taubman noted. “We often say that both trade and intellectual property systems don't exist for their own sake, that they are there to serve the wellbeing of humanity, and we need to understand how these transitions affect the way that both intellectual property and the trading system contribute to human wellbeing and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Keith Maskus, Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado Boulder, author of one of the main chapters of the book, outlined a series of observations to push this discussion further, starting by the need to expand research in this area.

Professor Maskus pointed out the key issues where more analysis is needed: mismeasurement of knowledge flows through available frameworks; understanding of how much knowledge is actually embodied in trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), supply chains, licences and patent flows; what economic and policy conditions maximize the gains from knowledge diffusion; and how accompanying policy frameworks facilitate or may restrict the gains from access to knowledge flows.

“These issues have in common one thing: the clear need for international coordination and policy collaboration. Largely this is going to have to be through international organizations and international trade agreements, but I would just raise the question whether that's sufficient,” he said.

In concluding remarks, Deputy Director-General Anabel González noted that this book was not conceived as an end in itself but as a project of collaboration and exchange of ideas that the WTO will continue to take forward. “From the very genesis of the project, the idea was to use the development, authoring and dissemination of the book as a means of stimulating a fresh set of policy ideas, an updated kit of measurement and analytical tools, and an enabling environment for consideration about the links between trade, intellectual property and social and economic development in the contemporary knowledge economy,” she said.

Looking forward, DDG González said the book’s structure also contributes to framing and guiding the necessary follow-up work on the main issues at stake. This forward agenda would entail rethinking the conceptual framework, improving measurement of trade in knowledge, assessing the impact of knowledge flows on trade and development, addressing the challenges for governance of achieving the social and economic benefits of trade in knowledge, and ensuring sound and balanced law and regulation. 

DDG González added that the WTO has launched a ‘trade in knowledge’ portal on the WTO website “that will serve as a dynamic set of resources and as an avenue for continuing to explore the themes covered in this book.”

The book launch is available on the WTO's YouTube channel at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaXEGrLvvSU

The book’s table of contents is available here.

The book was co-published with Cambridge University Press.

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