[A2k] IP-Watch: Are European Think Tanks Corporate Lobbyists By Another Name?

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Mon Feb 7 03:07:32 PST 2011


Are European Think Tanks Corporate Lobbyists By Another Name?

By David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch on 31 January 2011 @  
4:27 pm

Think tanks can be a godsend for reporters with a looming deadline.  
Almost invariably, they are staffed with articulate policy  
specialists, adept at summarising complex issues in a few quotable  
sentences. Frequently, too, the think tanks have neutral-sounding  
names, so a reader or viewer of news reports can easily believe that  
they are independent of vested interests.

Closer inspection reveals that many of these “independent” bodies are  
in fact heavily reliant on corporate donations. This is especially the  
case for a number of think tanks working on intellectual property.

In late January, the European Centre for International Political  
Economy (ECIPE) held a conference dedicated to trade and IP issues in  
Brussels. Most speakers at the event endorsed the broad thrust of the  
European Union’s external trade policy, which advocates that standards  
of IP protection applying within the EU should also be applied  
throughout the world.

A paper written for the event [1] by Frederik Erixon, ECIPE’s  
director, argued that enforcing patents in foreign countries should be  
a priority. “This is the area where the big policy problems are for  
European firms,” he wrote. “They encounter insufficient IP laws and  
regulatory frameworks in many countries, especially emerging markets.”

Asked why he had not invited speakers from anti-poverty organisations  
concerned about the possible impact of patent enforcement on such  
matters as public access to medicines in developing countries, Erixon  
said: “We are sceptical of having campaign groups [at our events]. We  
are more interested in having people from parts of the world with  
different views. For example, we have had people from Kenya and South  
Africa in the past.”

Erixon said that the centre had a budget of about €1 million last  
year. Its “base-funding” comes from the Free Enterprise Foundation in  
Sweden, while a number of companies have made financial contributions  
to its work. They include Pfizer, Nokia, Unilever, Siemens, Nestlé,  
Nike, Google and BP.

Hugh Pullen, a representative of the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly,  
said his firm had given “two one-off grants” to the centre for  
projects related to IP issues. “The work they do is their work,” said  
Pullen. “We had very little influence on the direction in which it  

Dieter Plehwe from the corporate watchdog LobbyControl estimates that  
there are 60 think-tanks in Brussels, as well as several others in the  
national capitals of EU states that publish material relating to the  
Union’s policies. Plehwe noted that corporate-funded think tanks  
generally do not have to publish their accounts in the same way as  
foundations (such as those linked to political parties) who receive  
public subsidies.

“Private think-tanks have mushroomed and have now developed a strong  
base in Brussels under no such regulations,” he said.

ECIPE is one of several think-tanks that have not signed up to a  
register of lobbyists and “interest representatives” run by the  
European Commission. “We find the idea that a think tank should  
register as an interest [representative] insulting,” Erixon said. “Our  
role is to produce analyses and evaluations, not to lobby.”

Whereas it is mandatory for pressure groups trying to influence  
lawmakers in Washington to detail their activities on a similar  
database, the EU’s register is voluntary.

Michael Mann, a European Commission spokesman, said that a new  
category is being established for that register to cover groups who  
are reluctant to be considered as lobbyists. “Some think tanks,  
religious organisations and law firms do not like being labelled with  
the nasty  ‘lobbyist’ word,” he added. “The idea of a joint register  
is to make it more attractive for people to sign up.”

The revised register will serve both the Commission and the European  
Parliament. The two institutions have stated that they wish to have  
their common register established by June this year.

In October last year, the International Policy Network in London  
published a study [2] contending that high IP standards can be  
beneficial for developing countries. The paper was authored by Douglas  
Lippoldt, a staff member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation  
and Development (OECD) in Paris.

Lippoldt said there was no conflict of interest between his work for  
the OECD, a public body, and the IPN, a corporate-funded think tank,  
as the paper made clear he was writing in a personal capacity. “What  
is important is to always include the standard disclaimer,” he said.  
“I am quite observant about that.”

Julian Morris, the IPN’s director, said that his network is  
“downsizing” and no longer works on IP issues. “We are funded by a  
broad array of organisations, some of whom do have an interest, none  
of whom has any say over what we do,” he added. “That is all I can say  

IPN’s London office does not disclose which companies fund its work.  
Yet it has run public relations campaigns in defence of the  
pharmaceutical industry in the past. In 2004, a group called the  
Campaign for Fighting Diseases was formed. Run out of IPN’s office, it  
sought to counter arguments from anti-poverty activists that enforcing  
patents on drugs in developing countries reduces the availability of  
medicines at prices affordable to the poor. “Stronger intellectual  
property protection in poor countries may stimulate innovation by  
multinationals to serve local needs (e.g. developing drugs to combat  
tropical diseases),” an IPN paper published in 2005 stated.

Meanwhile, the Stockholm Network presents itself as an alliance of 120  
different “market-oriented” think-tanks across Europe. Among the  
network’s publications is a newsletter on intellectual property issues  
called Know IP. In 2008, the network ran a campaign against calls by  
British members of Parliament for the greater use of generic medicines  
in the country’s health service.

Helen Disney, the network’s director, did not respond to a request for  
comment from Intellectual Property Watch. In a letter to the British  
Medical Journal last year, she wrote: “We are funded by memberships  
and research grants from a range of companies, foundations and  
individuals. Not only do we not hide this but we list all sponsors on  
our website and in our annual reports.”

Her letter was prompted by criticism from SpinWatch, a group  
monitoring the public relations industry. SpinWatch stated that while  
drug-makers such as Pfizer, GSK and Merck are known to have given  
money to think tanks, the Stockholm Network does not say how much it  
receives from each company.

Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of the Campaign for Access to  
Essential Medicines run by the humanitarian aid group Médecins sans  
Frontières (Doctors without Borders), said that pharmaceutical firms  
have been financing research by think tanks in order to influence the  
debate on the patenting of medicine. Such think tanks should be  
required to declare their sources of income, he said, adding: “Part of  
the problem is that this issue stays concealed.”

Article printed from Intellectual Property Watch: http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog

URL to article: http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2011/01/31/are-european-think-tanks-corporate-lobbying-by-another-name/

URLs in this post:

[1] paper written for the event: http://www.ecipe.org/value-for-money-getting-europes-trade-and-ipr-policy-right

[2] published a study: http://www.policynetwork.net/creativity-innovation/publication/do-stronger-iprs-deliver-goods-and-services-developing-countries

[3] European Officials Eye Pan-European Passport For Collective  
Copyright Licencing: http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2010/11/08/european-officials-eye-pan-european-passport-for-collective-copyright-licencing/

[4] European Broadcasters Call For Easier Copyright Clearance For  
Online Content: http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2010/03/17/european-broadcasters-call-for-easier-copyright-clearance-for-online-content/

[5] European Parliament Votes To Rein In Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty: http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2010/03/10/european-parliament-votes-to-rein-in-anti-counterfeiting-treaty/

[6] : http://ow.ly/3Nluo


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

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