Research, Scientific culture
Jean-Michel Bruguière is the Director of the Centre universitaire d’enseignement et de recherche en propriété intellectuelle (Centre for Intellectual Property Studies and Research / CUERPI) and a legal expert specialising in intellectual property law.

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 Question box

Are intellectual property rights a barrier to the free movement of ideas?

Jean-Michel Bruguière: Yes and no. I’ll start by saying no, as intellectual property rights are not at all designed to restrict free movement. Let’s take two examples: patents and copyright. When you file a patent, that patent is public. Competitors can go to the Institut national de la propriété industrielle (French National Institute of Industrial Property / INPI) to look at exactly what the invention is and then draw inspiration to create a new invention. This is what we call intellectual access, the idea behind it being: “I’ll give you a right, but in return you have to make your knowledge available to everyone”. Economic access, on the other hand, is restricted. You can expect the information to be disclosed, but you cannot make any commercial use of someone else’s invention. It’s the same for copyright. With copyright, only the form of expression is protected – the ideas themselves are still free to be used. Unfortunately, there are cases of misuse of intellectual property rights which can block the free movement of ideas. Sometimes, under the guise of protecting the form, it’s actually the ideas that are being protected. There are also cases where the patent published cannot be used because it does not include know-how, which means you have to contact the patent holder if you want all of the knowledge required. 

Would it be true to say that some patents raise ethical issues, namely those on medicines by restricting access to treatment?

JMB: You may be shocked to see certain drug manufacturers assert their intellectual property rights and demand licences from the countries which use them for major public health reasons. One example that comes to mind is AIDS. However, there are legal mechanisms in place which offer a way around this problem. Firstly, you have what we call compulsory licensing, which forces drug manufacturers to grant licences for public health reasons. Then, there are highly attractive prices to avoid penalising the industries which want to reproduce drugs. We have made some progress in this area, but ten years ago it was still very much a scandal – there’s no other way to describe it. Today, legal countermeasures have been identified which reconcile return on investment for a drug manufacturer (after all, producing a drug is rather expensive) and public health to make medicine readily available to the people who need it. 

You are the Director of CUERPI. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

JMB: CUERPI is a university centre which was created in the 1970s. It was the first intellectual property centre founded in France by Marie-Angèle Perot-Morel. Like any other research centre, it has seen its ups and downs. Today, however, CUERPI is a highly dynamic centre with a strong group of postgraduates and hosts an annual conference which attracts a great deal of attention from intellectual property students and professionals alike.
Updated on December 13, 2016