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For Expert Comment: Intellectual property protections curtail economic growth, access to health care in developing countries

MU legal expert explores the causes of global wealth inequality in new book

July 19th, 2018

Story Contact: Liz McCune, 573-882-6212,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Disputes over the use of intellectual property have widened the political chasm between the United States and frequent IP violators such as China. Appropriating patented ideas, technology and products can harm the businesses that own them, but the enforcement of intellectual property protections should not be applied equally across all countries, a University of Missouri law professor argues in a new book.

Halabi said that while IP protections are important to maintain between wealthy countries, they shouldn’t prevent those in poor countries from having access to items crucial to human welfare such as seeds, medicines and educational texts.

“The reality is that different types of intellectual protection are appropriate for different countries at different stages of their development,” said author Sam Halabi, associate professor of law at MU as well as a scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “IP laws have widened the gap for the haves and have-nots. They have made things like medicines and agrochemicals for the cultivation of food and exports more expensive for those in poor countries.”

Halabi’s book analyzes the relationship between intellectual property protections sought by large firms from the late 19th century onward and how those protections became codified through international trade agreements. It also explores how developing countries have responded to those agreements through the United Nations and other agencies.

One example cited in the book is South Korea. During the 1950s, it had the same GDP as many sub-Saharan African countries. Halabi notes that it adopted specific kinds of intellectual property protection during the 1960s and 1970s to promote the development of certain kinds of technological sectors.

“When South Korea became technologically advanced, it then adopted strong patent protections of the kind you see in the U.S. and Western Europe,” he said. “Similar stories are true for Brazil and India.”

Intellectual Property and the New International Economic Order: Oligopoly, Regulation and Wealth Redistribution in the Global Knowledge Economy was published by Cambridge University Press. Halabi joined MU in 2017. During the past academic year, he served as the Fulbright Chair in Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa, Ontario. His research focuses on national and global health law with a specialization in the governance structures of firms in health-related sectors.