Post Conference Round-up – the 2022 Symposium on Contemporary Issues in Global Studies

On 12 and 13 September the 2022 Symposium on Contemporary Issues in Global Studies was held at the Arbetes Museum in Norrköping, organised by Marc Stuhldreier and Martin Fredriksson of Linköping University. The Symposium was funded and supported as a collaborative project between the department of Culture and Society at Linköping University and the project PASSIM, with funding from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. The theme of the symposium was focussed on the intersection between ‘Intellectual Property, Technology, Culture and Health’.

One of the main objectives of this symposium was to not only to find a connection between academic research and undergraduate teaching, but to further establish a forum, bringing together academia with activists as well as multinational non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations working in this field. This was of particular importance to the organisers as in the intersection between intellectual property, health and human rights, ground-breaking work that leads to effective change is conducted by activities outside academia supported by the work of these organisations. To provide this forum, one of the key aspects of the symposium was to provide space for networking and exchange between the group of presenters, attendees, and students. The symposium was divided into four panels with 10 presenters, a Keynote address, and a spotlight presentation, followed by a workshop/roundtable discussion.

Starting the first day, panel 1 can be summarised as addressing scientific progress in the health sector and its accessibility for the communities most in need. The connection between the presentations in this panel was seen in highlighting political issues concerning geographical distance, as in the difference between local and global, but also specifically the role of a UN committee as a potential global body stepping up for the protection of human rights. Starting the presentations, Emmanuel Oke of the University of Edinburgh addressed the ‘Localisation, Local Working Requirements, and the Local Production of Medicines (and Vaccines)’. The presentation was followed by Vitor Ido from the South Centre addressing Global intellectual Property and Geopolitics, focussing on Public Health, Artificial Intelligence and Biodiversity. The third presentation in this penal was given by Jennifer Sellin from Maastricht University, focussing more directly on human rights, addressing the Right to Benefit from Scientific Progress and Access to Medicines, exploring the role of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The second was then a little more loosely themed around creation, ownership, and culture. In particular, the link between the presentations can be seen in their focus on the digital world and questions concerning how intellectual property and access rights can be balanced in our digital, data driven world today and in the future. The panel started with a presentation by Nadia Naim from Aston University Birmingham on Artificial Intelligence Creations and Ownership and the question of who the Intellectual Property should belong to when a work is created by an artificial intelligence. This was followed by Fatmanur Cebeci Corum from Swansea University exploring “Geo-Blocking” for Copyright Protected Contents and the Cultural Aspects of this Practice. As a PhD student, this was Fatmanur’s first conference presentation, and we are quite happy that we could provide this forum for her to deliver a great presentation that was well received.

The first day of the conference ended with the Keynote address provided by Graham Dutfield from the University of Leeds with the title ‘The Beyond Intellectual Property Moment in Historical Context’. The presentation concerned questions going beyond intellectual property in the sense that much of the international debate on indigenous rights today is focussed on intellectual property while there are several other obstacles faced by indigenous communities that to this day are still oftentimes neglected in ongoing debates. Graham provided particular insights into the life and work conducted by Darrell Posey with indigenous communities, and also highlighted issues connected to the five-century old foundation of international law that was aimed at colonising the then so-called “new world” through practices of dispossession.

The second day of the symposium started with panel 3, addressing the tragedy of war, and how the suffering of civil society may be further worsened by intellectual property protection and secrecy. First in this panel was Olga Gurgula of Brunel University with her presentation titled ‘Saving Ukrainian Lives during the Russian War: Ukraine Must Waive IP Rights under Article 73 TRIPS to Provide Access to Essential Medicines’. This was followed by a more historic view provided by Adam Bisno, the historian of the United States Patent and Trademarks Office, looking at the development of Penicillin and how patents and the Restriction of Scientific Information during World War II impacted its utilisation for saving lives. In the discussions on the presentation, it was considered what we can learn from the historic experience when we try to improve the current system for the future.

The fourth panel of the symposium was then broadly focussed on the question of whether the current intellectual property regime is even fit for its very own purpose. The panel started with Hu Yuanqiong from Médecins Sans Frontières addressing the difference between the voluntary and compulsory licensing of intellectual property and access to medicines in the global context, questioning whether the current mechanisms are fit for the purpose. This was followed by Fatima Hassan from the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa who joined us virtually to elaborate on the not fit for purpose global IP system. In particular, Fatima addressed the crucial question of why IP laws are barriers, and not enablers to life-saving access in a pandemic. The final presentation in this panel was provided by Frantzeska Papadopoulou of Stockholm University shifting the focus to regulatory rights for pharmaceuticals and the exchanging of safety and exclusivity, assessing what the impacts of these other types of exclusive rights are on the accessibility of pharmaceuticals.

The afternoon then began with the final spotlight presentation of the symposium provided by Sophie Bloemen from The Commons Network, exploring Biomedical Innovation and systemic change addressing the question of what biomedical innovation could look like in a new economy.

The conference closed with a workshop/roundtable discussion in which Vitor Ido, Hu Yuanqiong, and Sophie Bloemen provided insights into the work of their respective organisations. We discussed the meaning of activism and what the personal experience is when dedicating your work to striving for change on the international stage.

As organisers, we want to express our sincere gratitude to the presenters and attendees for making this symposium such a successful and memorable event. We look forward to future opportunities that evolve from this symposium and the new and renewed connections established at the networking events. With this in mind, we also want to thank the funders for making the organisation of this event possible.

Marc & Martin