Critical Race IP: Theories, aims, methods

April 20, 2017 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Bookmark and Share

Madhavi Sunder
Boatema Boateng
Laura Foster

What is the study of critical race IP? What are its theoretical investments, overarching goals, and methodological approaches? This opening plenary session will offer perspectives on these questions, focusing in particular on the relationship between critical race theory and intellectual properties in law and other disciplines. It will also explore the stakes of critical race IP, highlighting the need for further developing such an area of study and considering some directions in which it might proceed.


 IP and Asian Values
Madhavi Sunder

The demise of the TPP has all eyes fixed on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (“RCEP”), a trade agreement that hopes to create a free trade area broader than that created by Genghis Khan that will define the intellectual property across much of Asia and the Pacific. The 16 countries negotiating RCEP make up the bulk of Asia, including China, India, Japan, and South Korea, and stretch to Australia and New Zealand. This new trade agreement would decide the intellectual property law for half the world’s population. A review of a leaked draft reveals a struggle between India on one side and South Korea and Japan on the other over the intellectual property rules that will govern much of the world, affecting economic development and humanitarian goals such as access to medicines. My remarks will consider the ways in which the draft RCEP reflects distinctly “Asian values,” the role IP can and does play in reflecting community values, and the ways cultural differences are oft overblown.

Critical Race IP: Transnational Vision, Transnational Challenges
Boatema Boateng

Critical Race Theory (CRT) emerged in the 1970s in the specific context of U.S. history, racial politics, and law, especially as these pertained to African Americans. In the intervening decades CRT’s scope has expanded beyond that initial focus to include scholarship by and about other racialized and minoritized groups in the U.S., including Native Americans as well as Latino and South Asian immigrants. It has also traveled beyond the U.S. to locations like the U.K., and some scholarship has begun to emerge on CRT and IP. However, the lens of CRT has been largely absent from the debates on IP and the transnational circuits traveled by the knowledge and culture of Indigenous peoples and the people of the Global South. Yet, these are peoples whose current location in national and global structures of economic and political power is linked historically to the location of the groups from which CRT emerged in the U.S. While an expansion of CRT to encompass multiple groups across the globe risks diluting the critical force of this theoretical approach, analytical perspectives in which race stops at national borders also run the risk of obscuring important structural factors in the location of the cultures of Indigenous peoples and the global South in both national and international IP regimes. This paper therefore calls for a Critical Race IP that is transnational in its vision, while also paying attention to the tremendous challenges confronting such a transnational Critical Race IP.

Decolonizing Patent Ownership: A Feminist Decolonial Technoscience Approach
Laura A. Foster

Building upon the groundbreaking insights of feminist science studies scholars, this paper develops a feminist decolonial technoscience approach to studying patent ownership. First, this approach examines patent ownership as the governing of science and scientific knowledge production. A re-configuring of patent ownership as the governing of knowledge aims to challenge dominant notions of patent law as objective and natural property rights, while also enabling a broader examination of how patent law constructs, reinforces, and values certain ways of knowing over others in unequal ways. Second, it deploys a radical intersectionality that examines patent ownership across multiple scales of power and inequality. This includes, for example, analyzing how patent ownership is historically embedded within co-constituted relations of inequality (gender, race, indigeneity) and domains of power (law, science, market). Third, a feminist decolonial technoscience approach attends to how multiple modalities of materiality shape our worlds. This entails examining the precise material provisions of patent law that constitute patented objects, while also analyzing how patented objects refuse, change, or even align with the forces that seek to contain them. Fourth, this approach investigates struggles over patent ownership as a site for understanding shifting modes of belonging. In doing so, it demonstrates how belonging to the nation-state being increasingly bestowed in new ways upon those whose knowledge matters most for advancing global capital. In sum, a feminist decolonial technoscience approach aims to not only challenge hierarchies of knowledge production, but imagine alternative ways of doing science where multiple ways of knowing and belonging can flourish.