Patent Injustice: A Critique of Existing Intellectual Property Regimes

In light of the recent discussions around the utility of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), both during and since the 2016 U.S Presidential election, our study is a review and analysis of an often overlooked aspect of most FTAs – Intellectual -Property (IP) rights and the legal frameworks protecting them.

We provide a critical look at how FTAs have expanded the reach of IP laws, ostensibly to promote innovation and competition. In particular, the case of the pharmaceutical industry is used to demonstrate how globally active corporations lobby Western governments to spread IP laws which helps them secure markets, and perpetuate lucrative monopolies and pricing power. A set policy alternatives are also presented, which may provide viable options to counteract the more negative outcomes that result from modern IP regimes. 

View the full study.

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Removal of Sanctions: What the Iran Deal Holds for the Future.

By Owais Arshad

The removal of Iranian nuclear sanctions is being hailed as a triumph for diplomacy in the Middle East. However the euphoria surrounding the nuclear agreement that lifted sanctions easily overlooks the fact that as more things change, the more they stay the same. Most glaringly, the neutralization of the Iranian nuclear program has, in actual fact, done little to settle the larger question of the role of nuclear weaponry in the Middle East.

On the economic front, the European Union’s relief is substantial although the United States will continue to maintain other sanctions for a range of issues ranging from terrorism to human rights abuses. The major concession from the US is the fact that its Department of Treasury will no longer target foreign individuals and entities that do business with Iran. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), the international financial messaging system, has announced that it will be restoring access to Iranian banks. Crucially, this will allow Iran’s financial system to finally operate internationally again, and receive billions in unfrozen assets and interest payments. Already, Iran is set to receive $1.7 billion after settling (by partially forgiving) debts incurred by the United States for weapons payments made before the revolution. Regardless, Iran is set to reap substantial gains through this agreement.

Current Nuclear Weapons Arsenals

Figure 1: Large stockpile with global range (dark blue), smaller stockpile with global range (medium blue), small stockpile with regional range (pale blue) [source:wikipedia]

Figure 1: Large stockpile with global range (dark blue), smaller stockpile with global range (medium blue), small stockpile with regional range (pale blue) [source:wikipedia]

Nuclear Proliferation

Western arguments against Iran’s alleged weapons program often cited this as being in violation of Iran’s commitments under non-proliferation treaties such as the NPT. This agreement along with the CTBT provides the architecture of international nuclear weapons regulation internationally.

Although the probing of Iran’s nuclear intentions was extensive, and even unprecedented, what is often forgotten is that the NPT also requires the US, UK, Russia, France and China to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”. Despite talk of ending the dangers of nuclear weapons little has been achieved in holding the largest weapons states accountable for their arsenals.

The US, UK and France were able to convince other members of the UN Security Council to force Iran to open up its nuclear program, and have now put its nuclear reactors and research under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However in many ways the nuclear agreement has only made a marginal impact to the Middle East’s overall vulnerability to nuclear weapons which continue to be wielded under a range of overt and covert agreements in various countries.

Other Proliferators

Curtailing the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East remain an elusive goal. Although the Arab League has long proposed a comprehensive declaration of a nuclear weapons free zone in the region, Israeli security policies continue to rely on maintaining nuclear superiority, and the US is content to subsidize its military, allowing it to maintain its large nuclear stockpile.

At the same time, the US has for many decades also stationed nuclear weapons on Turkish soil, and Turkish pilots regularly practice firing such weapons. While such practices are likely a violation of the NPT, the US and its allies have maintained the position that the NPT only applies during peace, and, as such, if the Turks or other assorted NATO allies were to use such weapons, war would have broken out already. This state of affairs has become particularly ominous in light of the recent downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey over Syrian airspace.

The Saudi’s also appear to maintain a covert nuclear capability thanks to an agreement with Pakistan. Long rumoured, often denied, it is thought that Pakistanis have guaranteed the Saudi royal family access to nuclear war heads as and when required. 

Business Deals

Iran can look forward to an aggressive marketing campaign by European business interests, as they try to mend fences and flood Iran with much need services, goods and technology, the lack of which have long crippled its economy. Cables from Wikileaks have shown that prior to sanctions, the US struggled to convince EU countries such as Italy to step away from dealing with Iran. The Italians noted that Iran was a “good customer” and that, “The Iranians pay well, and pay on time”.

Iran’s opening up for business provides a small sliver of goods news for Europe’s stagnant economies. In a recent official European Commission economic forecast report for 2016, the language was notably pessimistic, with allusions to growth remaining “sluggish” and that the “global outlook” being vulnerable to “volatile incidents in capital markets”. As the global economy remains in flux, it is only from Iran that large state subsidised EU conglomerates such as Airbus can hope to gain any substantial orders.

This was evident in the eagerness shown by the Italians to conclude nearly $20 billion in business agreements with the visiting Iranian President Rouhani. The Italians even covered up the statues in the Capitoline Museum to avoid offence, and, presumably ensure that all contracts were signed without a hitch.

It is in this context that Iran’s ability to secure a settlement with major powers is remarkable. The Iranian establishment has essentially gambled, and won by demonstrating that they have the technical capability to develop weapons, but choose not to. By doing so, they have been recognized as equals.

UK airstrikes into Syria: will it be a game changer?

By Muneeb Siddiqui

The UK government passed a bill on December 2nd authorizing the extension of airstrikes against ISIS (D’aesh) into Syria. The government’s motion to enter the American led coalition depended heavily on the argument that Britain could be D’aesh’s next target. While the bill passed with an overwhelming majority, by a margin of 174, the British public remains divided. During the course of the debate till voting day, public opinion in support of airstrikes in Syria had dropped drastically with only 44% approving the measure on December 3rd. 

In light of the current stalemate between US led coalition forces and D’aesh militants, a campaign that is now in its second year, British involvement into the war is unlikely to make much difference.  While coalition forces have had a few victories against D’aesh, the militant group has also gained territory over the past year.

US led airstrikes in Syria

The US government with its Arab allies began its campaign to push out D’aesh in September 2014 mainly in the Kurdish regions in northeast Syria. For the first time President Obama had ordered direct attacks against the militant group in Syria since D’aesh became formally known in 2013. The battle against D’aesh has led to mixed results leading to a widely accepted stalemate.

Fig.1 - ISIS controlled areas (in grey) mapped for June 24th 2014

Fig.1 - ISIS controlled areas (in grey) mapped for June 24th 2014

US airstrikes in combination with local forces on the ground have had several victories. The Kurdish city of Tal Abyad held by D’aesh since November 2014 was recaptured by local Kurdish forces in June of the following year, with cover provided by US airstrikes. This dealt a significant blow to D’aesh, which used the city as crucial route for its oil supply to Raqqa, a city considered to be D’aesh’s command center. 

Another city reclaimed was Kobani in January 2015. A Kurdish stronghold, much of Kobani was under D’aesh control since September 2014 (fig 2). A massive offensive by local Turkish forces including the Kurdish militia People’s Protection Unit (YPG), backed by US airstrikes helped pushed D’aesh out. 

Fig. 2 – ISIS controlled areas (in grey) mapped for November 20th 2014

Fig. 2 – ISIS controlled areas (in grey) mapped for November 20th 2014

Unfortunately holding on to areas liberated has not proven easy. Soon after recapturing Tal Abyad, repeated attacks were carried out by D’aesh in the month of July. In retaliation for lost territory in Tal Abyad, D’aesh launched another assault on Kobani that left 200 people dead, mainly civilians over just 2 days. This was labeled as one of the greatest massacres since the start of the civil war.  In addition to that, although D’aesh may have retreated from some territory, it has gained others (fig.3). 

Fig. 3 – ISIS controlled areas (in grey) mapped for November 16th 2015

Fig. 3 – ISIS controlled areas (in grey) mapped for November 16th 2015

Palmyra, a UNESCO heritage site, was captured in May 2015. D’aesh was successful in capturing the airport, intelligence HQ and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Crucial oil and gas fields are located in the region as well. 

Will UK airstrikes help? The way forward

As a tit for tat between US backed forces and D’aesh continues, additional airstrikes are unlikely to make a significant difference. Several coalition victories against D’aesh have been overshadowed by the territories gained by the militant group.

Most western governments, including the UK accept that fully defeating D’aesh may require ground troops in the future. That prospect is dreaded by many considering previous failed attempts in Libya and Iraq. 

With the US and Russia coalitions on opposite sides of the war, tackling the threat of D’aesh will continue to prove difficult. Permanent peace is likely to require a political settlement involving all legitimate domestic and foreign stakeholders. The Syrian transition plan discussed in Vienna can serve as a useful blueprint to achieve lasting peace. However, the inclusion of Syrian voices remains to be minute and merits attention.

A widespread consensus within Syrian civil society while admitting to legitimate grievances of all affected parties has the potential to isolate groups like D’aesh which continues to complicate the conflict further.