March 26, 2014

The Intellectual Property Spring

By Ashley Mergen

Egyptian society pre-dates the founding of America by roughly 5,000 years. Having to stand on its own with economies that have been established over millenniums, the United States has relied on developing a climate of innovation to help it catch up (and then some) with these long-established empires in just over two centuries.

But these days, the Egyptians as well as Tunisians are continuing the process of modernization, having just adopted a new constitution which calls for the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights for the first time in the country’s history, aspiring to become a knowledge-driven economy.

Given that Egypt and Tunisia have recently faced many challenges, IP seems like an unnatural priority to highlight. However, given the recent history of the Arab Spring which was sparked largely by popular disdain for the faltering economy and high unemployment, seeking opportunities to grow and protect the knowledge economy is actually a commonsense—albeit, overdue—approach.

Governments which protect IP rights typically catalyze domestic creative and innovative economies from the inside by fostering homegrown talent and ambition. Not only that, but they also seize the opportunities to attract world-class investment from overseas, which oftentimes requires stable, rules-based business environments.

In an address before the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, Egyptian Ambassador Dr. Walid M. Abdelnasser explained the rationale behind including IP in the constitution:

“Intellectual property regimes have been established on the fundamental trade-off that intellectual property rights are a special privilege given to right-holders for the economic exploitation of their works, and designed to serve the public purpose of promoting the progress of science and culture.” 

While this focus on IP rights is a first for Egypt and Tunisia, it isn’t necessarily a first for that part of the world. Also last week, broadcasters, Internet service providers, and satellite companies from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) banded together to create the first ever “Anti-Piracy Coalition” and raise awareness of IP in the region.

Though some of these initiatives are rather new, it’s never too late to take the steps to leap forward towards establishing knowledge-based economies. What we’re seeing in post-revolutionary Egypt, Tunisia, and MENA is perhaps an IP revolution, set forth by the constitution and catalyzed by the burning desire to grasp at opportunity.

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