Owen Morgan

Date of this Version


Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Morgan, O. (2008) Harmonisation of intellectual property: issues in the South Pacific

Working Paper Series; No. 18, Oct. 2008.

Copyright © Owen Morgan and The Globalisation and Development Centre, Bond University, 2008.


Globalisation has been a major force driving developed and developing economies alike to reform their intellectual property regimes in order to be competitive in the global marketplace. This has taken the form of pressure to match the level of protection provided by the United States and the European Union - the harmonisation of intellectual property standards and norms. This paper will introduce issues relating to harmonisation of intellectual property as that process impacts on the small states in the South Pacific. It will use New Zealand as a model because its economy is the largest and most developed of those states and the one for which intellectual property is the most significant.

In order to draw out the issues of harmonisation, the paper will explore the meaning of harmonisation as that term has been used in relation to intellectual property. It will show that those issues are essentially ones associated with lifting the levels of global intellectual property protection. It will then go on briefly to consider harmonisation in the context of bilateral negotiations between parties mismatched in negotiating strength to illustrate the pressure that is exerted to lift those levels. The paper concludes by identifying harmonisation as a means adopted by stronger nations of imposing higher standards of intellectual property on nations in a poorer bargaining position. The result is that protection for the intellectual property interests of the stronger nations is implemented whether that protection meets the needs of the weaker states and whether or not it fetters the ability of those weaker states to protect their own nationals and their interests.

The underlying theme of the paper is that the small South Pacific states should use negotiations to harmonise intellectual property rights as an opportunity to further tbeir own goals. If obtaining better access or other concessions for agricultural products means making concessions in the area of intellectual property, then the answer is to concede gracefully. There is another possibility - that those states may be able to use trade negotiations to gain gradual acceptance of a global regime that protects their specific intellectual property interests such as traditional knowledge