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The knowledge economy has yet to penetrate many areas of the world. Taking up this cause is Bruce Lehman, who served from 1993 through 1998 as the commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, under President Clinton. After stepping down, he founded the non-profit International Intellectual Property Institute (IIPI) to work with governments, companies and entrepreneurs in developing nations who were failing to use patent, trademark, and copyright laws for their own economic advancement. Lehman visited Technology Review last month and sat down to talk with editor-in-chief Robert Buderi and contributing writer Evan I. Schwartz about patents, intellectual property development projects, and their role in fostering economic growth.

TR: Why did you set up the institute?

LEHMAN: If you’re going to develop knowledge-based economies in other countries, and if they’re going to get rich, they have to have effective intellectual property systems. When I left government, I wanted to set up an institution which would help people in developing countries understand how to use these new tools which they’ve been forced to accept as a result of trade negotiations. Doing so would be a win-win situation because it would create constituencies in these countries that would begin to see things our way. So instead of having the tension of us against them all the time, we would move forward together into a more harmonious world.

TR: How is it funded?

LEHMAN: I started out by getting a couple of people in the private sector to give us some seed money.

TR: I saw the logos on your Web site and noticed that sponsors include Ford, IBM, Microsoft, Merck, Time Warner, and Bacardi.

LEHMAN: Those are the companies that have contributed. But the idea always was that this should be publicly funded and indeed, that’s also happened. This is a development organization, so it should come from the U.S. Agency for International Development (US AID), global development banks, things like that. We also got money from WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization).

TR: How does your mission relate to that of WIPO?

LEHMAN: WIPO is a specialized U.N. agency that deals with the world’s intellectual property system. They’re unique among UN agencies. They don’t get funded from member states, but generate about $200 million in fee revenue by administering the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Madrid Union [for international trademark cooperation]. WIPO financed some of our first projects, in Egypt and in Jamaica.

TR: What are those projects?

LEHMAN: There’s a technology consortium in Cairo that had made digital images of all of the artifacts in the collection of the Egyptian Museum. They called up WIPO and said, “Look, we might want to put these out on the Web. What should we do about it?” And the response was: call the IIPI. And we talked to them and told them, “No, don’t do that just quite yet.” We sent a copyright lawyer to help them understand that when you create a visual image of something, even though it might be in the public domain, that you can copyright it and that you should license these things.

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