New chapter sheds light on intellectual property and sustainable development

Prof. Faith Majekolagbe argues IP has impacts beyond innovation

Doug Johnson - 28 March 2024

Assistant Professor Faith Majekolagbe of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law is aiming to shed light on the role that intellectual property plays in global development. 

Her chapter was recently published in The Elgar Companion to Intellectual Property and the Sustainable Development Goals

For her contribution to the publication, Majekolagbe wrote on the role that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) can play in furthering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a list of 17 items that governments and other organizations — including universities like the U of A — need to further in order to foster peace and prosperity around the globe. 

“As a legal researcher, I look at the ways legal systems could affect the actualization of the SDGs, and point out things that need to be done for those systems to be better positioned to positively impact the SDGs,” Majekolagbe says. 

According to Majekolagbe’s work, the WIPO’s official stance is that its operations only pertain to SDG 9, innovation. However, her chapter argues that IP has impacts that go beyond just innovation.

Majekolagbe drew upon existing literature pertaining to IP and the WIPO, including historical documents, old negotiations and secondary literature.

IP laws across the globe inevitably touch upon developments that impact the realization of the SDGs, she says. For instance, the development of new drugs to treat illnesses, or new pieces of machinery that could have a positive impact on food security. If a company creates these IP goods, they can patent them, preventing other companies from manufacturing them without a license. This, inevitably, plays a role in how much IP goods will cost, impacting who around the world can afford them. 

Often, developing new drugs or tools or other types of products involves “borrowing” concepts from existing products. As such, if a patent covers many aspects of a product, it could end up stifling future developments. 

“When a person cannot use another person’s work in certain ways, it could actually impact innovation negatively,” Majekolagbe says. 

The chapter also notes that the WIPO needs to rethink how its mandate relates to the SDGs. It added that this new scope would, ideally, be consistent with the UN’s efforts to further the SDGs and in a way that considers inclusivity.