Bilateral science and technology (S&T) agreements are important because they contribute to market-building and intellectual capital accumulation for transnational corporations. The US alone has over 800 bilateral S&T agreements being implemented in over 60 countries all over the world, involving research expenditures of an unknown amount. The federally-supported agreements carry stringent obligations to secure and protect US intellectual property rights and a good number of them focus on the life sciences. It is common practice for bilateral S&T agreement to serve non-S&T policy objectives, and in the US, a prominent discussion has been going on about how to better integrate S&T cooperation within national foreign policy.
In the case of the US , these agreements serve to pressure countries to revise their standards for protection of investment and IPR. Up until recently, a 1990 model IPR protocol was annexed to each agreement. That protocol says that each party has full rights to any IPR generated under the agreement in its own country, while rights in third countries will be negotiated separately. But it also says that if one participating country does not protect such IPR under its domestic laws, and the other does, the IPR-protecting country will walk away with all the rights – worldwide. This provision has been extremely controversial and caused several countries to either haggle over the text or walk away from the research funds. The most famous case is India, which carried out an open dispute with the US over this policy from 1987-1992. The US was basically asking for all the rights to any drug patents coming out of joint vaccine and diagnostics research, since India does not allow for patents on pharmaceutical products – unless, of course, India would like to revise its patent law. The dispute put all Indo-US research cooperation on hold for six years, until the US was willing to amend its protocol to respect India’s rights.
Australia, which has about 55 bilateral research cooperation agreements with 25 countries, has also been accused of pushing its own standards for investment and IPR protection through these agreements in countries like the Philippines.
The European Union has about 30 bilateral S&T cooperation agreements with third countries.
last update: May 2012