16 February 2012. International Intellectual Property Institute (IIPI) intern Chelsea Masters recently sat down with IIPI Chairman and President Bruce Lehman to discuss the founding of IIPI and its plans for the future.

Chelsea Masters: Before starting IIPI, you worked in the full spectrum of legal professions from counsel to the House Committee on the Judiciary, to the Policy Advisory Commission at WIPO; with all of your work in international intellectual property, what made you decide to found IIPI?

Bruce Lehman: IIPI came out of my experience being in charge of intellectual property for the Clinton Administration. The 1990s was probably the most intense period, before or since, of intellectual property rights diplomacy in history. Its high points included negotiating TRIPS, a bilateral intellectual property patent harmonization agreement with Japan, and negotiation of the WIPO 1996 Copyright and Phonograms treaties which form the basis for copyright protection and the internet as well as for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This experience of working particularly with developing countries, who perceived themselves and were perceived by others, as giving up rights to developed countries, such as the US, persuaded me that if developing countries were to fully embrace these new international treaties, they would have to come to see intellectual property rights as something important to their own economic growth and development rather than something they simply had to give up in a trade negotiation. And so, when I retired from government service at the end of 1998, I established IIPI for the primary purpose of working with developing countries to assist them with using intellectual property for their own economic development.

IIPI’s work has been on too small of a scale. I had concerns early on that larger countries in the developing world would continue to resist growth of intellectual property rights, and this has come true. I think that IIPI’s mission has never been more important and the primary challenge we have is to greatly expand the work that we do.

CM: Which IIPI accomplishment has made you the most proud?

BL: I’m most proud of our first accomplishment involving the work we originally did in South Africa which was fairly early on in the post-apartheid era. This work involved working with South African universities and research organizations to help them build a more effective technology transfer apparatus. During the apartheid period, South Africa was a national security state and spent a great deal of money on technology, but these were almost entirely state driven investments. South Africa had very sophisticated state-run laboratory tech research infrastructure and in the post-apartheid period, it was inappropriate to use such disproportionate amounts of tax revenue for these purposes compared to the broader need of housing and education for the masses. At the same time, it was important that South Africa not lose the valuable asset of its technology infrastructure, and that it also not suffer from the brain drain associated with losing such an important asset. So during the post-Apartheid era, the South African government was very receptive to, and in fact really, demanding that these state-funded research organizations make a greater effort to recoup costs of tax investments through commercialization of the inventions growing out of the state investments. IIPI assisted in this process and helped build the Southern Africa Research and Innovation Managers (SARIMA) which is the South African equivalent of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) in the United States. SARIMA still exists today and promotes effective innovation and technology transfer in South Africa contributing to South Africa’s economic growth and public wealth.

CM: What is one of your favorite IIPI success stories?

BL: We’ve engaged in many projects, but one of the most satisfying very recently, in fact in the last year, was a series of regional workshops that we organized where we invited craftspeople and artisans focusing on indigenous women to trainings on how to use intellectual property rights to more effectively monetize their arts and crafts. We had programs in the Central American region, the Andean region of South America, and Southeast Asia. All of these programs actually involved individual artisans, predominantly women, and were very well received. Most of these artisans had never had anybody reach out to them and help them understand what rights they had in their work and how to more effectively protect and use those rights to their own economic advantage. There was one woman in the Mexico City workshop whose journey involved 17 hours riding in a canoe and 15 hours on a bus to get to the capital where she had never in her life visited before. For many of the workshop attendees in this location, Spanish was not even their first language. Overall, it was very gratifying and we were very well received by these people.

CM: Recently, IIPI wrapped up a successful conference on IPR Courts from all over the world. Which type of IIPI program (conference, trainings, etc.) do you feel has the greatest impact on international intellectual property law and why?

BL: The programs that help people to understand how to use intellectual property as a tool of economic growth are by far the most important because they build respect for Intellectual Property without which it is difficult to have an effective global system of recognition and enforcement of those rights. Having a specialized court does not do much unless the people in that country support the work that that court is doing.

CM: Where should IIPI go from here?

BL: I would like IIPI to continue its development work which is at the core of what it does and to continue such work, as that in the Philippines, to more effectively identify and commercialize work coming from university and government funded researchers. I am looking forward to that.

Also, I would like to have a much bigger presence in international intergovernmental forums (particularly WIPO, WHO, WTO).

CM: On that note, what programs would you like to implement in the future pertaining to the bigger goal of expanding IIPI’s purview?

BL: I would like to share our perspectives in those international organizations already mentioned. IIPI is an accredited NGO at WIPO in Geneva, and right now, the source of greatest activity in WIPO is its development committee. I think IIPI has a real role to play in helping policymakers in that committee to refine and support the global activities of WIPO.

Photo © Bruce Lehman 2002