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Intellectual Property Rights and Human Rights Law: A Difficult Relationship

by Tanveer Jeewa

IMG_6589Intellectual property law and human rights law are two legal fields which hardly intersected before the 90s. This might come as a surprise since the joining of the two has been intensely debated in this century. Yet, looking at the history of their meeting, one may easily understand why a human rights approach was not a priority for intellectual property experts and vice versa. In the post-world war II era, human rights experts were more focused with establishing international norms preventing gross human rights abuses, while intellectual property rights proponents were primarily focused on broadening the scope of IP protection with a view of rewarding and incentivizing innovative activity. Put differently, these were two rather diverging topics which did not allow for the two fields to merge easily.

Not surprisingly, human rights advocates were the first to take notice of intellectual property rights, due to two significant observations:

  1. The neglect of the rights of indigenous people, and
  2. The linking of intellectual property and trade through the TRIPS agreement in the mid 1990.

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