Report Seeks To Advance Global Debate On Technological Transfer

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A new report from the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) proposes solutions to advancing the global technology transfer debate to better bridge the development gap between developed countries and the global South.

The report [pdf], authored by Padmashree Gehl Sampath and Pedro Roffe, was presented alongside the 12-16 November meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization Committee on Development and IP (CDIP). It tracks the history of the technology transfer debate over the past 50 years, and offers several suggestions.

For instance, it stresses that technology transfers should be addressed in a less polarised way. Intellectual property rights should not be granted solely in the hope that transfer of technology would automatically follow, it said. The study also urges that the flexibilities to IP rights encompassed in international law be more predominantly used and understood as a legitimate way for countries to ensure their economic development.

The study highlights the lack of recognition of technological transfer not only as an international issue but also as a national one. The analysis advocates for more involvement of national actors in the South through, for instance, the development of absorptive capacities at the domestic level. The report also emphasises the need to avoid approaching technology in a standardised and static fashion.

It calls attention to the fragmentation of technological transfer depending on the type of technology targeted – from agriculture to global health and climate change – and depending on the period analysed and the needs of countries based on their stages of development.

Finally, the report underscores the intrinsic link between international trade, technological development and IP rights. “A balance between trade, technology access and IPR protection is the only way forward,” it says.

This study provided the opportunity to review the milestones of the technology transfer debate over time – from the first international debate held in 1961, to the code of conduct on transfer of technology in the 1980s, to the 1994 World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and beyond. The study identifies flaws in the various debates and emphasises that the international community has yet to provide satisfactory answers.

“The report questions policymakers and negotiators about transfer of technology, which clearly remains an issue that needs to be tackled,” Guillermo Valles, director of UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) division on international trade in goods and services and commodities, said during the presentation of the report at WIPO on 14 November. “Indeed, we cannot keep on trying to use the same methodology and falling again into the same traps. The errors of the last decades give us a thought on what is not working in the way we address this issue.”

The technological divide leads to a development divide and this report is an attempt at a more South-tailored orientation of the tech transfer debate. Yet, this study might be seen as overly ambitious and as treating some aspects of the debate in a too general fashion, resulting in an introduction to the topic rather than a holistic approach. For instance, the report leaves out questions that could have been interesting to address like the role private firms should play in the tech transfer.

Tiphaine Nunzia Caulier freshly graduated from a Master in International Law from the Graduate Institute Geneva and UCLA School of Law. Through her work experiences and academic interests she has specialized in international trade, intellectual property, and public health.

Tiphaine Nunzia Caulier may be reached at

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