James Surowiecki has a really solid piece in The New Yorker about exporting American patent and copyright law as a key element of trade policy:

Our recent free-trade agreement with South Korea is a good example. Most of the deal is concerned with lowering tariffs, opening markets to competition, and the like, but an important chunk has nothing to do with free trade at all. Instead, it requires South Korea to rewrite its rules on intellectual property, or I.P.—the rules that deal with patents, copyright, and so on.



He goes on to explain in a calm and restrained tone I couldn't personally manage to muster that this is a bad idea, before noting that "The great irony is that the U.S. economy in its early years was built in large part on a lax attitude toward intellectual-property rights and enforcement." Yes. Though one should say that this isn't merely ironic, the U.S. had weak IP when it was a less-developed country because that's the correct set of policies for such a country to have. American IP rules are too strong for America's own good, and way too strong for the developing world.

Incidentally, this is why even though I still think including labor and environmental standards in trade deals isn't a very good idea, I don't get indignant about these kind of demands from labor groups the way I used to. The IP-related conditionality we're currently engaged in is much worse than that; if we could somehow swap it out in favor of labor standards, that would be a change for the better. Realistically, though, we're more likely to wind up with the worst of both worlds.

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