Author: Palak Jain


Intellectual Property Rights play a vital role in the sustainable development. This paper assesses the discourse of sustainable development as it is applied within the global intellectual property system. The Sustainable Development Goals aim to engage and animate networks in order to eradicate poverty and hunger, achieve dignity and equality, and create a healthy environment. In part one, the ways in which the intellectual property system in currently engaged in the sustainable development agenda has been discussed. In part two, different dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals that can be achieved through Intellectual Property have been examined.


Intellectual property (IP) has infiltrated all areas of knowledge, including education, art, technology, entertainment-media, literature, music, and so on, through its passive presence. Due to its interactions with other laws and international agreements, the function of Intellectual Property Laws has grown over time. The same is true when it is stated that intellectual property influences sustainable development goals. On the one hand, intellectual property (IP) promotes development by incentivizing innovation, and on the other side it also hinders it by limiting inventions, particularly in pharmaceuticals and agriculture, by granting exclusive rights to proprietors.

The UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, which set out border goals. The SDGs emphasise the connection between IP and development by establishing the various goal. The SDGs are strongly political in nature, ranging from no poverty to justice, peace, and strong institutions and partnerships for the goals. Intellectual property, as a tool for rewarding knowledge creators, does not appear to play a direct role in achieving sustainability goals. However, if we analyse the technological innovation required to fulfil some of the SDGs, such as cheap and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, climate change, and so on, we can see an indirect correlation.

  1. SDGs that can be viewed in light of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs)

The SDG Target 3b, which states that the flexibilities within the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) shall be used to protect public health by enabling access to affordable medicines and vaccines for both communicable and non-communicable disease, is a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) that could be read in line with the Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs). Also, the SDG no. 9 emphasise the connection between intellectual property and development by establishing a goal to “build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.”

Other SDGs that are relevant to IP are listed below:

  • SDG 2: Ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture are all priorities under this goal.
  • SDG 3: Ensuring healthy lifestyles and promoting well-being for all ages.
  • SDG 4: Ensuring that all students receive a high-quality education that is inclusive and egalitarian, and encourage them to continue their education throughout their lives.
  • SDG 7: Ensuring that everyone has access to energy that is affordable, sustainable, reliable and modern.
  • SDG 8: Encouraging inclusive, long-term economic growth, full as well as productive employment, and decent work for all.
  • SDG 13: Taking immediate action to tackle climate change and its consequence.

Achieving different dimensions of SDGs through IPR

The intellectual property (IP) regimes in most World Trade Organization member countries have changed since the introduction of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS agreement sought to harmonise intellectual property protection across World Trade Organization member countries, ensuring that all inventions in various sectors receive a minimum level of protection.

  • IPR and Health

The introduction of a TRIPS-compliant IP regime in India, like in many other developing countries, has sparked heated debate. In general, the debate has centred on the pharmaceutical and food industries, which affect access to food and health care, two of the most fundamental human needs. Given its capabilities in the pharmaceutical industry, India’s case differs from that of many other countries. The Indian pharmaceutical firms have demonstrated a higher inclination to invent and patent but the data on health-related innovations is fragmented and sketchy, making it difficult to answer unequivocally whether the new IP regime has fostered innovative activity in the Indian health-care sector. Thus, it is true that the country is in a learning period, and the government should be willing to adjust policies in order to strike a balance between the twin goals of incentivizing innovation and providing accessible health care so as to achieve SDGs by 2030.

  • IPR and Climate Change

There is a significant link between climate change and intellectual property rights. Climate change has a variety of negative effects like excessive droughts, rains, glacier melting, cyclones, tsunami is, that are occurring all over the world, to combat which we require evolving Green Technology. The term ‘green technology’ refers to any technology that is environmentally friendly or clean. It also refers to devices and items used in environmental science, environmental monitoring, green chemistry and environmental conservation. It should be noted that one of the primary reasons for granting monopoly rights under the IP system was to promote and encourage technological innovation and environmental benefits. Consequently, there arose a need to protect green technology through the use of green intellectual property (green IP). It is a concept in which innovations that benefit the environment in some ways are legally protected.

Though there is a constant increase in demand for carbon-based energy sources due to the infinite global energy demand, it is obvious that it is critical to conserve the limited and finite natural resources for the human race’s continuous survival and sustainable development. As a result, green technologies emerged, with the goal of protecting the environment by lowering the potential threats posed by expanding globalisation, urbanisation, and human interaction. So, given the numerous benefits of Green IP, developing countries, including India, must develop and access their IP system, as well as actively accelerate the process of granting Green IP protection.

  • IPR and Food Security

Hunger is a serious violation of human dignity and rights. It is a fundamental impediment to progress, as it fosters disagreement and fault, reduces output, and shortens life span. At the start of the Green Revolution, no discussions had taken place about the role that intellectual property might play in agricultural modernization. Intellectual property rights (IPRs) play a critical role in promoting agricultural research and development and ensuring food security. It was primarily the advancement of new biotechnology based on genetic engineering that propelled IP into the food security arena. Threading together issues such as Sustainable Agriculture, Trade Effects Specifically on Agriculture, SPS Agreement, WTO Agreement on TBT, TRIPS Agreement, and others initiate on Food Security and thus locate the IPR within the bounce of food security strategies. Agricultural research has a significant impact on reducing food insecurity and by promoting research and projects, intellectual property law catalyses and incentivizes agricultural innovation.

  • How Technology-Transfer can help in meeting SDGs

Technology transfer corresponds to the assignment of rights to manufacture, use, and other aspects of a specific technology, as well as the ancillary knowledge required to reap the benefits of that technology to the mutual benefit of both parties in a transaction. A significant amount of effort, resources, and money are invested in the development of a specific technology, with the risk of failure. Both first- and third-world countries face similar challenges, and partnership could help bridge the gap and ensure reciprocity afterwards. It is also self-evident that the magnitude of IP advantages is proportionate to a country’s level of development and the availability of skilled personnel. Due to a lack of infrastructure and a specialised work force, the Least Developed Countries and developing countries have a low absorptive capacity. Similar is the case with India and it is here the SDGS comes to the rescue. It aids in the transfer of technology in order to increase the capability of least developed countries so that they can profit from science and technology innovations. As a result, both the SDGs and the IP of developed, developing, and low-income nations play an interdependent role in accelerating each other. SDG 17 mentions this collaborative framework, stating that effort needs to be taken to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.” When such collaborations are formed on the basis of transparency, significant good can be achieved in terms of public health and benefit. Thus, a collaboration can aid in the achievement of SDGs through Intellectual Property.

The above-mentioned list of SDGs aids in establishing the role of IP in development on a holistic level, as well as identifying the importance of IP in achieving the SDGs. The diffusion of technology is a critical aspect in achieving the above-mentioned objectives. As a result, IP cannot be treated in isolation because it is interdependent on many socio-political and economic factors, which in turn determine not only the fate of the SDGs but also the fate of the IP itself. For the 2030 Agenda to be realised, forming partnerships and initiating collaborative ventures are critical.

Strong intellectual property protection facilitates the development, adaptation, and dissemination of green technologies. Non-renewable resources are being depleted at an alarming rate, and their availability is limited. As a result, it is necessary to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle based on green technologies as part of the development of new global environmental policies, and stronger protection of intellectual property rights is an essential part of this process.

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