What Startups Should Know About TPP


In the name of “individual rights and free expression,” WikiLeaks has released the draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Negotiations over this trade agreement began in secret between 12 Pacific Rim countries in December 2012, and despite the secrecy, we know (from a previous leak) that discussions have covered intellectual property, competition and State-owned enterprises, environmental policy, services and investment, and government procurement, among other issues.

It has long been evident that unlike standard trade agreements, this one requires public input because it involves broad questions about what the Internet will be, not just relatively narrow trade questions like how many automobiles should be traded with Korea.

Left out of negotiations is the question of how might this secret agreement impact startups.

1. The current agreement is supported by more than 600 multi-national corporations and interests, including Nike, General Motors, Pfizer and Walmart. These companies alone have been given access to the texts with no representation for the real economic value creators -- new and young technology businesses, or startups.This might be the most important point. Here, startups have no voice.

2. Increasing the term of patents and lowering global standards for patentability might be good for pharmaceuticals, but for startups already fighting against bad patents in the hands of bad actors (patent trolls), this could be a disaster.

3. Aggressive copyright protection, of the kind that pursued Aaron Swartz, is a step backwards from the noble pursuit of free information and more universal access to knowledge. Young companies often cannot afford to pay for the latest research, and without it they are at a disadvantage based on ability to pay, and not the merit of what many are trying to achieve. Aggressive protection of this kind is also something we have seen before in the SOPA and PIPA legislation -- legislation the tech community came together to defeat in the name of Internet Freedom. This kind of copyright legislation is a dream-come-true for Hollywood and major corporations and a major threat to internet businesses and content creators.

There is little doubt that the proposals in this agreement have been designed to promote “economic and social development,” and “reduce impediments to trade and investment”. But protecting and enforcing new and existing intellectual property rights is only one side of the solution, and unsurprisingly, one favored by existing business models.

When a process like TPP happens in secret and is governed solely by incumbents, the result is exactly what we see before us. TPP, in this form, will set our ability to innovate back and have the same “chilling effect” we spoke about so often during the SOPA debates. There is a serious argument to be made for the power of open exchanges of information, and we should get busy making it. Many of our partner organizations will be readying tools to take action as the negotiations progress, so prepare to get involved.

Image from wikipedia commons

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