Sustainable Innovation: Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer, and Global Public Goods

Matthew Rimmer
4 min readFeb 22, 2024

QUT News, 22 February 2024

22nd February 2024

The role of intellectual property rights in technology transfer to developing countries and least developed countries to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a major theme of a new international collection of writing on intellectual property rights and the SDGs.

QUT Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Matthew Rimmer, one of three editors of the 700-page tome The Elgar companion to intellectual property and the SDGs, said the 33 authors from around the world comprehensively cover the complexities of every aspect of intellectual property (IP) in achieving the SDGs.

The editors acknowledge the problem that “intellectual property is but one policy instrument for achieving welfare gains”.

“[However], it is one premised on rights of exclusion when the SDGs demand greater inclusion and access to global public goods.

“It is against this context that this volume interrogates the role of intellectual property rights as a spur or drag for the realization of the SDGs within and among nations.”

Professor Rimmer, from QUT School of Law, said IP law, policy and practices currently had a “shadowy presence” in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, despite the relevance of the world’s multiple and varied IP systems to each of the 17 SDGs.

“The book contains a variety of proposals to re-align and reform intellectual property law, policy, and practices to better promote the SDGs,” he said.

“Each chapter in the collection has considered whether the various forms of intellectual property help or hinder realisation of the SDG.”

Professor Rimmer said the book also contains recommendations for the development and reform of international institutions to promote the diffusion of sustainable technology.

“Of particular note is the creation of the United Nations Development Program Accelerator Lab Network — an initiative designed to fast-track local innovation in respect of sustainability,” he said.

Case studies

Contributors from QUT School of Law have addressed these issues pertaining to selected SDGs:

Both QUT Associate Professor Felicity Deane and QUT Professor Saiful Karim in their chapters consider IP and environmental issues, namely the transfer of sustainability-related technologies to developing countries.

Professor Karim (SDG 14) outlines the legal avenues under international IP law for the transfer of IP rights-protected marine technology, compulsory licensing and no-patentability, and on special provisions for the least developed countries.

Professor Felicity Deane (SDG 7) highlights the need for innovation and dissemination of new and existing technologies, particularly for renewable energy, to the Global South to reach net zero. While arguing for climate technology IP to be a public good, the chapter considers challenges to individual countries’ domestic IP arrangements and international trade frameworks to illustrate the complexities inherent in technology transfer.

QUT Dr Muhammad Zaheer Abbas’ chapter analyses Covid 19 pandemic impacts on each of the 17 SDGS to demonstrate how IP laws posed a clash between public need and private profit by focussing on three areas: education (SDG 4), right to repair medical devices and access to Covid vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics (SDG 3).

Dr Abbas said online teaching materials and digital collections for research activities came up against copyright laws, which saw the closure of the National Emergency Library program, soon after it was set-up to maintain access to digitised research material in response to the pandemic lockdowns.

The right to repair medical devices, badly needed to maintain ventilators, was hamstrung by IP laws which gave manufacturers exclusive rights to repair and to refuse information and software for repair processes.

Dr Abbas said that while many political, civil and academic leaders argued for vaccines to be considered ‘global public goods’, extended negotiations over IP rights by the EU, World Trade Organisation and others over developing countries’ access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics demonstrated that “the corporate interests of the biopharmaceutical industry prevailed over public interest in times of unprecedented crisis”.

The chapter illustrates that the pandemic brought sharp focus on the urgent need for consideration of flexible and inclusive intellectual property laws to not only protect the public in times of pandemic but to achieve the SDGs which the climate crisis has initiated.

The Elgar Companion to Intellectual Property and the Sustainable Development Goals is published by Edward Elgar Publishing and is edited by Bita Amani, Caroline B Ncube and Matthew Rimmer.

QUT Media contact:

Niki Widdowson, 07 3138 2999, n.widdowson@qut.edu.au

After hours: 0407 585 901, media@qut.edu.au

Niki Widdowson, ‘Sustainable Innovation: Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer, and Global Public Goods’, QUT News, 22 February 2024, https://www.qut.edu.au/news?id=193013

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Matthew Rimmer

Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law, QUT. #Copyright #Patent #Trademark #plainpacks #Access2meds #SDGs #Climate #IndigenousIP #trade #TPP