MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

Knowledge Ecology International

Washington, District Of Columbia | 2006 Award Recipient

Advancing the public interest in intellectual property policy

The inventions of scientists, the recordings of musicians, and the images created by artists are all protected under intellectual property law. These protections exist to encourage innovation and creativity. What happens when these protections and benefits turn into barriers? What if a country cannot afford the medicines or journals covered by such laws? Where does the balance lie between rights of intellectual property owners and the rights of the public? When should knowledge and the products it creates be shared freely? These are some of the complex questions that Knowledge Ecology International grapples with daily.

KEI promotes balanced intellectual property polices in U.S. law and in international agreements and norms. It supports providing reasonable benefits and incentives to creators and owners, while making essential knowledge and goods accessible and affordable to the broadest possible public. It is an effective broker and guide in this increasingly complex debate and one that is sought out worldwide.

For more than a decade, KEI led the successful campaign to lower prices of medicines essential for treating AIDS and other diseases through “compulsory licenses.” It brought about numerous changes in international trade policy, working with nongovernmental organizations and academic partners to design a new trade framework and new financing mechanisms for medical research and development.

More recently, KEI has called on the World Intellectual Property Organization to take a more balanced approach between promoting intellectual property rights and serving the public interest. It seeks to slow or stop work on treaties that could restrict severely access to knowledge. These include the broadcast treaty, which would give broadcasters rights over the recording, retransmission, and reproduction of their broadcast signals for 50 years – separate from the rights to the content. KEI promotes a fundamental rethinking of the database treaty, which provides copyright protection to facts once they are aggregated into a database. The goal is to ensure that developing countries have adequate and affordable access to knowledge and technology.

KEI's small staff, led by economist James Love, is highly entrepreneurial, regularly proposing new business models and incentive structures. They are also skilled diplomats. KEI is regularly sought out for its expertise by United Nations agencies, national governments, small organizations, and others struggling with intellectual property issues.


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