Bringing the Globe into Globalization: Models of Capacity Building and Technology Transfer

Martina Colette Gillen


Legal policy on the global stage has combined with history, nature and economics to create an inherently unequal playing field for states seeking to undertake industrial development or agricultural reform at this point in time. The reasons for this are manifold and complex, for example, developing nations may not find it easy to lobby or assert themselves in international fora, historical colonial relationships may have inhibited their economic and industrial development, and current trade relationships may make adherence to certain international agreements a matter of necessity rather than choice.

Policy makers are aware of this problem and have tried to lessen this inequality by instituting mechanisms to transfer technology to least developed nations. Using the digital divide as a case-study this paper looks at the efficacy of this model and argues that this approach as instituted is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.

1.      The definition of technology transfer and capacity building promulgated by international law only addresses a limited range of the factors which cause technology gaps and in some cases the response exacerbates them.

2.      The reason for this poorly formulated policy is that it is founded upon flawed economic principles and assumptions about the effect of free market economics in developing nations.

The central argument of this paper is that in order to bridge the developmental divide it is not sufficient to simply improve infrastructure and access to technology but one must also empower people to use technology in a way which addresses their own self-identified social, environmental and developmental needs. The author believes that the Open Source movement offers not only practical means of doing this but also a model for rethinking the economic and social assumptions behind our current capacity building model.

The reasons for adopting this perspective are manifold. The movement is already designed to draw us away from corporate to community based modes of thought; it is essentially a grassroots protest movement against the ethos of standard copyright allowing creators to set their own licensing criteria on their works to ensure that they remain within the creative commons. By safeguarding this openness the movement facilitates both technology and knowledge transfer (unlike proprietary systems which usually facilitate only one of these). This is because open source systems recognize the concept of communal use as well as tailored ideas of attribution and moral rights suitable for the various contexts of use. Thus, the growth and development of the open source systems takes account of systems with lower technical capacities without precluding or discouraging the possibility of systemic advancement.

Finally, unlike other development related knowledge protections, open source is of global application and is not in that sense targeted or imposed upon least developed parties and therefore allows self-directed development by permitting them to choose if they wish to adopt it and to set the level of protection they find most beneficial.

Thus, this paper hopes to take an established alternative to IP law and reveal new perspectives on how to facilitate effective technology transfer.

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