Intellectual Property Rights and Human Rights

Intellectual Property Rights and Human Rights

Author: Srijaa Grover
I Year | Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi


Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and Human Rights are two domains of law that exist independently but still impact each other. The relationship between them is an interesting one. Currently, IPR and Human Rights overlap each other much more than expected. The right to intellectual property finds its place in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the United Nations Declaration for the Right of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).[1] The major concern which arises is ‘whether IPR is embedded in Human Rights or do human rights hinder IPR’.

Human rights are non-discriminatory and inherent to all humans, and they have a right to experience the feeling of being equal all around the globe. These rights may be civil rights like the right to life, liberty and security; political rights like the right to protection of law and equality before the law; economic rights like the right to work or equal pay; social rights like the right to education; and cultural rights and collective rights like the right to self-determination.[2]

IPR are the rights people get based on the creations of their minds. It includes the exclusive right given to a creator to use their creation. The two broad categories of IPR are copyrights and industrial property rights. The four basic categories of IPR are trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights and patents. The main purpose of copyright is to protect the rights of authors and artists and reward their creative work. Industrial property rights include the right to use trademarks that distinguish goods from others, and patents that protect technology creations. The purpose is to give protection to research and developmental activities.

Intellectual Property Rights, Human rights and Indigenous Communities – The Conflict:

IPR protects the participation of the private sector and its contribution to technological development. On the other hand, human rights are linked to human dignity and are recognized worldwide. As IPR became globalized, it affected its relationship with human rights.

The less developed countries must implement the TRIPS standards, otherwise compromising development. The indigenous communities are the disadvantaged part of the society in this scenario. They often do not get their lawful share and feel that the government should recognize their claim related to traditional knowledge. However, per the Intellectual Property regime, traditional knowledge is a part of the public domain and not a part of private ownership. So the government, in some cases, will have to deny patents and copyrights from traditional knowledge.[3] This leads to the exploitation of these indigenous communities.

IPR has found its way in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). However, contradictions arise when we look at Article 27 of the UDHR, which states that everyone has a right to participate in the community’s cultural life freely and share advancement vis-à-vis the fact that everyone has the right to protect the work they authored.

In the case of the right to health, there is a direct relation between medical patents and access to drugs. Another link is between the patents of genetic engineering and access to food. It is an obstacle considering that the price of patents is assumed to be higher than that of generics. As a result, a hefty number of individuals do not have access to it, and thus, it deprives them of their basic rights.

Resolution of Conflicts and Conclusion:

To sum up, IPR and Human Rights overlap, hinder as well as coexist with each other. The coexistence between the two is essential to maintain peace and ensure the development of society as a whole. There needs to be a balance between the incentives and access, and an intersection between both systems keeping in mind the balance between the two. Organizations relating to human rights should develop social, economic and cultural rights. The government should impose high standards for the protection of intellectual property rights.

There is also a need to look at these rights considering the vulnerable members of society like the indigenous people. After all, “the realization of human rights must be judged according to the level of implementation among the most disadvantaged”.[4] International forums like World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and World Trade Organization (WTO) should make new and better laws for IPR, considering the human rights outlook.

[1] Myriam Christmann, How Intellectual Property Rights are Human Rights, Lexology (July 9, 2018),

[2] Human Rights and Slavery, End Slavery Now (Feb. 14, 11:00 AM),

[3] Navin Kumar Jaggi and Aashna Suri, Human Rights And Intellectual Property Rights, Legal Services India (Feb. 14, 11:00 AM),

[4] Shreya Bajpai, Human Rights and Intellectual Property Rights: A Study of Relationship and Conflict, 4(5) IJLMH 2232 – 2246 (2021),

Editor: Anugra Anna Shaju

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