Trade related aspects of IP rights

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) came into force in 1995, as part of the Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization (WTO). TRIPS incorporates and builds upon the latest versions of the primary intellectual property agreements administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, agreements that go back to the 1880s.

TRIPS is unique among these IPR accords because membership in the WTO is a "package deal," meaning that WTO members are not free to pick and choose among agreements. They are subject to all the WTO's multilateral agreements, including TRIPS. 

TRIPS applies basic international trade principles to member states regarding intellectual property, including national treatment and most-favored-nation treatment. TRIPS establishes minimum standards for the availability, scope, and use of seven forms of intellectual property: copyrights, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, patents, layout designs for integrated circuits, and undisclosed information (trade secrets). It spells out permissible limitations and exceptions in order to balance the interests of intellectual property with interests in other areas, such as public health and economic development. (For the complete text of the TRIPS Agreement, as well as an explanation of its provisions, see the WTO web site at .)

According to TRIPS, developed countries were to have implemented the agreement fully by January 1, 1996. Developing-country members and members in transition to a market economy were entitled to delay full implementation of TRIPS obligations until January 1, 2000. Least-developed members were given until January 1, 2006, to implement their obligations, with the possibility of further transition upon request. Developing countries that did not provide patent protection for particular areas of technology on their date of application were given an additional five years, until January 1, 2005, to provide such protection. In November 2005, the 2006 transition period for least-developed countries was extended to July 1, 2013.

At the 2001 WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, least-developed countries were given an additional 10 years to implement TRIPS patent and "undisclosed information" provisions as they relate to pharmaceuticals. In July 2002, the WTO General Council agreed to waive the obligations of least-developed countries concerning exclusive marketing rights for pharmaceutical products until January 1, 2016.

Because the TRIPS Agreement is over a decade old, however, it does not address several new developments, such as the Internet and digital copyright issues, advanced biotechnology, and international harmonization, the process of creating uniform global standards of laws or practice. It sets the floor for minimum IPR protection, not the ceiling.

Since the conclusion of the TRIPS Agreement, the World Intellectual Property Organization has addressed digital copyright issues in the so-called Internet Treaties, namely the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT).