One third of the world’s total commerce and forty percent of global production is tied up in one region of the world-the Pacific Rim. The big players of this market have been working on trade negotiations that is aimed at liberalizing trade and increasing trade flows. This is all well and good-after all, the only proven way to lift millions out of poverty en masse is economic liberalization. If you need proof, just look up China’s economic figures and compare pre- and post-Park Chung Hee South Korea. While the overall aim of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPA) is laudable, the problem I have with this is the way it is being done and some ideas contained in the draft might have unforeseen consequences for technology companies in the US and beyond.
Behind closed doors
Hate on the Bush years as much as you want, but at least when it comes to trade negotiations, they did things out in the open. The Hope and Change presidency of Obama seems to have a penchant for closed door negotiations (see Obamacare legislative drafting, for example) and their handling of the TPA is no exception. What is even more galling is that while the public at large is left out, the major US companies that stand to benefit from the TPA are firmly in the loop. Thanks to a recent Wikileaks leak, we see what the TPA draft looks like and it is disturbing on many levels.
Tech companies: kept out and ready to get broadsided?
While the TPA can be applauded for wanting to beef up intellectual property rights-and given the lousy IP rights enforcement afforded by some Asian countries, this is a great improvement-it might have swung so hard in the other direction that tech startups in the US might feel the brunt of overzealous patent enforcement. It is bad enough many tech startups are routinely shaken down by patent trolls, would the TPA enlarge the legal battlefield for such legal shenanigans? Also, by couching IP protection too heavily in litigation rights, wouldn’t his have a chilling effect on technology? It seems that whoever came up with the TPA doesn’t seem to understand that technology and innovation involves cross pollination of ideas. If the legal walls are set too rigidly, a lot of the fluidity and vibrancy of the idea economy might dry up due to fear of litigation.