Coalitions, Power and Institutional Change in Global Patent Politics

2 / 2013
Florian Rabitz


With the 1995 Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a centralised rule-system for the international governance of patents was put in place under the general framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Since then, the number of patent–related institutions has increased monotonically on the multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral levels. I will explain this case of institutional change by focusing on the norm–setting activities of both industrialised and developing countries, arguing that both groups constitute internally highly cohesive coalitions in global patent politics, while institutional change occurs when both coalitions engage in those negotiating settings in which they enjoy a comparative advantage over the other coalition. Specific ally, I make the point that industrialised countries’ norm–setting activities take place on the plurilateral and bilateral level, where economic factors can be effectively translated into political outcomes while simultaneously avoiding unacceptably high legitimacy costs; whereas developing countries, on the other hand, use various multilateral United Nations (UN) forums where their claims possess a high degree of legitimacy, but cannot translate into effective political outcomes. The paper concludes with some remarks on how this case yields new insights into ongoing debates in institutionalist International Relations (IR), as pertaining to present discussions on “regime complexity”.

About the author

Florian received a Diploma in political science with economics from the University of Marburg in 2008. After working as a research assistant in the German parliament for 5 months, he joined the IES in late 2009, where he is currently working within the FWO-funded project "Governance through regulatory complexes: the international and European management of genetic resources" together with Justyna Pozarowska and Sebastian Oberthuer. His main research interests relate to institutional dimensions of global environmental governance, and in his thesis he is looking at the role of the EU within the genetic resources institutional complex, which is composed of institutions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization. Other interests relate mainly to IR theory and issues of philosophy of science in IR, such as scientific realism, causality and the structure - agency problem.