Turkey’s new IPR legislation
“The times, they are a changing,’” sang the bard and a recent Nobel laureate, and of course they are. Check the headlines of newspapers published on Jan. 1 if you want to see what I mean. Here is one from Iceland; “First child of 1980 gave birth to the first child of 2017.” This is the kind of pleasant news you’d like to read about over your morning coffee. And here is a headline from Istanbul; “Istanbul new year nightclub attack leaves 39 dead.” It is shocking, terrifying and out of place. Yet it is not out of the ordinary any longer. It is becoming normal.
However, if you are looking for something truly extraordinary, you’d have to go back to Dec. 22, when the Turkish parliament passed the country’s comprehensive legislation on intellectual property rights (IPR). The law will enter into force upon the signature of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and its subsequent publication in Turkey’s Official Gazette. The law is to replace a series of haphazard decrees regulating an area that is of concern to foreign direct investments (FDI) to Turkey.
In reality, there is nothing extraordinary with the new legislation, as it is generally aligned with the European Patent Convention. It is most ordinary in that sense of the term – the stuff political economists, industrialists and other professionals might be happy over, but nothing more. Yet it is extraordinary because this is Turkey, and it is remarkable that the parliament found time to focus on a path-breaking legislation amid incessant terror attacks.
Why is this new IPR legislation significant? Turkey’s growth in the last four decades was mainly due to internal migration. Workers who harvested cotton and tobacco in fields have automatically earned much more when they took up jobs in factories or shops in urban areas. But as urbanization rose from 30 percent in 1960 to 75 percent today, that engine of growth has come to a standstill. More or less everyone who could move, did. Now growth requires within sector productivity gains across the Turkish economy, and for that, Turkey needs FDI to boost its technological transformation. Technology transfer and technology diffusion have become buzz words when it comes to defining solid job and growth agenda for Turkey today. The new IPR legislation was designed to attract FDI, foster technological change and thereby increase growth. That is why the new legislative framework stands out for how ordinary and reasonable it is.
So how did this come about? The law was first drafted as a patent bill way back in 2013. Since then, the investment climate has changed drastically in Turkey. Think about the priorities then, and think of them now. Back then, the priorities were education, justice and tax reforms. An ordinary IPR legislation does not have much meaning without a properly functioning justice system, skilled labor force and a positive tax treatment, so these things were important to talk about. The Kurdish question was nearing its end, there was no talk of shadowy religious cults in the arteries of the system, and despite the significant inflow of refugees, the Syrian civil war itself was a tragic occurrence far away from Ankara.
Since late 2013 however, Turkey has been a roller coaster ride of purges, explosions and shadow wars, bringing us to today’s - a la Turca style - state of emergency.
What does all this mean for the West? The former Libyan leader Muammer Kaddafi made a gloomy prophecy to the Russian daily Zavtra back in 2011: “Now listen you, people of NATO. You’re bombing a wall which stood in the way of African migration to Europe, and in the way of all Al Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You‘re breaking it. You’re idiots, and you will burn in Hell for thousands of migrants from Africa and for supporting Al-Qaeda. It will be so. I never lie. And I do not lie now,” he said. At the time of course, Kaddafi’s words fell on deaf ears. After all, he was a tin pot dictator, what did he know?
Turkey of course is no Libya. Yet Western leaders would do well to be on guard against hubris, and focus on what really matters to Turkey. Projecting the red-and-white Turkish flag on the Brandenburg Gate is a well-intended gesture. But we may be well past gestures to avert the imminent “who lost Turkey” debate in Europe.