Friday, September 21, 2007

Law, Technology and Society in Latin America Panel at LASA 2007

On Saturday 8th of September, took place in the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth of Montreal the panel on Law, Technology and Society in Latin America as part of the Latin American Studies Association International Congress, where topics of Internet law and IP rights in Latin America were addressed. The panel was opened by Andres Piazza, from Ageia-Densi Argentina, who carried out a very precise and accurate analysis of the relation between data protection and Internet security with emphasis on Argentina law. Andres referred to the fact that during the last decade Data Protection has advanced substantially in Latin America, mainly based on the European Data Protection Directive and the implementation of it made by Spain, and that as in Europe the regulations have had as one of their pillars the security of the databases containing the personal data. Accordingly, he went on saying that it would be impossible to carry out any form of serious protection of personal data without putting into place technical and organizational measures tending to guarantee the security of the personal data and avoiding its alteration, loss, or unauthorized processing or access, as stated in every data protection legislation in question. However, excepting in Argentina the rest of the region is still lacking the creation of application authorities that ensure the proper enforcement of the norms and ended proposing that such regulatory upheaval be given priority for the creation of a culture of data protection across Latin America. He was followed by Carlos Aguirre, from the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, also from Argentina.
Carlos gave an insightful talk about the relation between law and information technologies with a regional perspective. There he made an analysis of the challenges that technologies bring to the development of certain and coherent law, with emphasis on the external factors affecting regulatory creation. Carrying out a thoughtful economic analysis of the law affecting information technologies in general and electronic commerce in particular, Carlos went on saying that in Latin America there was a general lack of acknowledgement of the need of such multidisciplinary and specialized analysis on the design of public policies, universities’ curricula and legal regulation. He ended proposing that the mentioned analysis be commenced at university level in legal education by the institution of compulsory subjects dealing with law and technology in Latin America. It was then my turn to shift slightly the conversation towards IP rights in the region.
My talk dealt with the issue of intellectual property rights, innovation and development in Latin America. After going rapidly through the evolution of intellectual property rights in the region, from Paris and Berne to TRIPS and from there to TRIPS-Plus, and some examples of the role that some Latin American countries played in the making of those treaties, by action or omission, and also some examples on the implementation of the international agreements south of the Rio Grande. The focus shifted then to the issue of innovation and the relation to development. It is widely acknowledged that innovation and better use of existing resources are keys in countries development, but in order to assess what policies better achieve those goals appropriate means of measurement are needed. One of the important problems is that innovation is usually measured suing the number of patents accepted in one given territory and it is my opinion that in the current patent madness the measure is not only deceiving but interested and dangerous. Those supporting that form of measuring innovation tend to unsurprisingly find that strengthening intellectual property rights foster innovation without realising that “strengthening” in the current environment means more protection for lower quality (or no quality) patents, which defeats the whole reasoning. So, for example, those patents that are clearly invalid if proper standards are followed (standards destroyed by “strengthening” IP rights) are the ones that make people conclude that innovation is on the rise, while certain evidence shows that IP rights may well be stalling innovation. I concluded by asserting that innovation can be linked to IP rights but the level of them should be decided in each country and that serious work should be carried out to establish a reliable method of measuring innovation, a method independent from IP rights.
The panel ended with a presentation by Palmira Granados, from Mexico, who talked about genetic patents and indigenous people with emphasis on Mexican cases. Palmira questioned the current status of the patent system, where more concern is giving to grant incentives to investors than with achieving a balance between the interests of inventors/investors, consumers/society, and indigenous peoples who donate their genetic samples for research purposes. She then went onto evaluating the possible impacts of the current patent system on different areas, specifically when it involves pharmaceutical patents and genetic information collected from indigenous peoples, dealing with the effect that the patent system may have on research and creation of drugs especially tailored for diseases that have particular behaviours in indigenous peoples, specifically in some Mexican indigenous peoples. Finally, she explained the way in which the current patent system may jeopardize religious and cultural beliefs of indigenous peoples who participate in pharmaceutical research. The explanation got necessarily interlinked with human rights, a trend that is becoming more pronounced in many forums.

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