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"To Promote the Progress"? Explaining the Global Diffusion of Intellectual Property Law Open Access

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Why do very different states adopt remarkably similar intellectual property laws? From Australia to Zambia, France to Fiji, and the United States to Uzbekistan, countries around the world have to a large extent harmonized laws protecting intangible goods. Such harmonization is puzzling given the extreme variation in domestic political and economic factors between states. States often appear to adopt intellectual property laws that provide no net benefit, and may even result in a net loss. What explains such patterns of adoption?I argue that the global spread and significant convergence of intellectual property laws is best understood as a form of policy diffusion. States generally do not develop such laws to respond to domestic policy concerns. Rather, they are frequently coerced into adopting laws that domestic actors oppose. Furthermore, when states voluntarily adopt such laws, they often craft them in response to other intellectual property laws that they have been coerced into adopting. Using a mixed-method research design, I demonstrate that states have adopted remarkably similar intellectual property laws because they have been influenced by other states. I test competing theoretical mechanisms of policy diffusion against one another, and against alternative explanations. Specifically, I examine the spread of clinical trial data protection laws, laws protecting the knowledge of indigenous and traditional communities, and copyright limitations and exceptions modeled after the U.S. doctrine of fair use. Quantitative analyses using original data on policy adoptions demonstrate the plausibility and generalizability of theoretical mechanisms of diffusion, while qualitative data, including leaked diplomatic cables and dozens of interviews conducted in Geneva, Brussels, Washington, and Cape Town establish the operation of such mechanisms in specific cases. I find significant evidence that the widespread adoption of harmonized intellectual property law is due to coercion, largely attributable to the United States and the European Union. I also find evidence that some policy adoptions result from superficial learning and imitation, in both cases motivated by a desire to counterbalance coercive demands in other areas. Surprisingly, there is little evidence that countries adopt intellectual property laws in order to increase their competitive advantages.

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