While intellectual property has long been perceived as a method for protecting, and ultimately valuing, innovation, it is an imperfect measure. With its traditional bias in favor of innovation as delimited by Western views of individuality and technological progress, intellectual property is not only an imperfect measure, but also one that has contributed to the undervaluing of non-Western innovation and creativity. This undervaluation has denied developing and least-developed countries a right of compensation for local innovation, which has contributed to the continuing imbalance in economic development. Recognizing a broader definition of compensable innovation that includes non-Western concepts, including innovation and creativity based on so-called traditional knowledge, would allow the holders of such knowledge to participate as partners in emerging knowledge-based industries. Ultimately, protection of “generational” innovation could provide a strong tool for wealth transfer that serves to make developing nations active participants in their own sustainable development. More significantly, establishing a rational system of protection for traditional knowledge would bring social justice back into the issue of innovation protection. As we remake innovation systems in response to the changes demanded by the global digital marketplace, rational protection for traditional knowledge must be a part of that change if we are to achieve equitable, sustainable values for innovative activity in the twenty-first century.
Crossing the Innovation Divide
Volume 81, No. 2, Summer 2008