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Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute

QMIPRI Spotlight Series: Professor Uma Suthersanen

In the fourth part of our series showcasing the research of members of Queen Mary’s Intellectual Property Research Institute (QMIPRI) we focus on Professor Uma Suthersanen, Professor of Global Intellectual Property Law.

Professor Uma Suthersanen in a magenta top

Professor Suthersanen holds a Chair in Global Intellectual Property Law. She is currently the Academic Director of the Intellectual Property Law LLM programme and the Deputy Director of Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute. Professor Suthersanen has given evidence before the European Parliament, and has advised the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the European Commission, and the Governments of Israel and Singapore.

Professor Suthersanen is focussed on mapping a fresh perspective of IP law by re-framing different public interest concerns using stakeholder analysis.

Professor Suthersanen’s research on mass consumer designed objects as a socio-legal phenomenon within IP law has been cited in multiple cases, reports and enquiries. In 2016 she was appointed as the academic lead in the European Commission’s Legal Review of Design in the EU; the recommendations were subsequently incorporated in the 2020 European Commission’s Evaluation of EU Legislation on Design Protection. In addition to this, her research on minor innovations initiates a more critical perspective by arguing that new IP rights have to be designed on the basis of development and innovation environments, taking into account the local competencies and collective behaviours. This work has been cited by several governments and organisations including the Australian, Singaporean and Indian Governments and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

What do you consider the most significant aspects of your work to be?

“The impact and the implications of the stakeholder mapping research in market, society and justice. For example, I have argued that lawmakers should appreciate why manufactured objects function both as aesthetic and functional goods within the competitive marketplace from the stakeholder perspective (namely consumers and other market actors). A judge declared the Star War’s Stormtrooper Helmet as a functional artefact within a film; and yet these original helmets, whether used in the film or reproduced from the original mould, can sell for over £800.

“In the area of cultural heritage, my research has tried to show how important the tangible aspects of knowledge goods can be in different contexts. Yes, we can digitise almost anything in a museum but at the end of the day, the key stakeholders (namely heritage institutions, sovereign claimants, and the public) still revere the tangible artefact leading to emotionally and politically charged discussions on ethics, the rights of major institutions such as the British Museum and the Louvre to retain the physical “object”, and the repatriation of cultural objects. In relation to educational books, I have mapped out, using stakeholder theory, the contemporary debates surrounding remuneration, creativity, incentivisation and access of text and data for poor nations; more immediate was the drafting of educational exceptions within the copyright law for the Cambodian Government which incorporated basic values arising from the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

What is your proudest achievement when it comes to your research?

“First, I love the fact that my work has enabled me to take part in national and global law reforms: whether it is in the form of giving evidence to the European Parliament on the feasibility of patenting software; or sitting down with Omani public prosecutors (as part of a WIPO mission to Oman) to discuss enforcement challenges. Or having private discussions with Ministers, national IP offices and NGOs to help draw legal policies and frameworks to facilitate national negotiations to safeguard WTO-TRIPs flexibilities: for example, I was part of the UNCTAD mission to Cambodia in relation to access to books; and part of a cross-border NGO-advisory team advising CEMAC countries on IPRs in relation to EU partnership agreements.

“Secondly, global recognition of my research: including being invited to take part in policy panels organised by UN agencies.” Professor Suthersanen has received invitations from WIPO and UNCTAD, as well as critical NGOs (including the Geneva Trade & Development Forum on Inclusive Globalization or Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) and renowned research initiatives (such as the Yale Law School Information Society Project on Access to Knowledge and the Oxford University India Centre for Sustainable Development). In addition to this she has also received invitations from international judiciary/bar associations including the Thai judiciary as well as the American Bar Association.

“More recently and at home, I am genuinely pleased to have been invited to be part of the REF 2021 Law Panel as an outputs assessor. I am still awaiting the ultimate achievement for a research academic - the non-fiction bestseller! There is still time.”

Is there anything surprising to come out of your research?

“My research has been, and will always be, holistic and broad, international and comparative, taking into account different legal traditions and families. It has had to be – mapping public interest concerns employing stakeholder analyses is akin to travelling overland from London to Singapore via the Trans-Siberian train – which incidentally I did do after finishing my PhD in 2001.

“Everything is surprising on this journey. You have to traverse different geographical landscapes, miss some obvious interdisciplinary connections, encounter both fascinating (and tedious) research analyses along the way, sample different theoretical tastes, drop in for rapid ideas and conversations (and leave very fast at times), and learn the basic language and symbols of different disciplinary tribes. I marvel at the utterly surprising patterns that reveal themselves especially the convergence of attitudes, prejudices and ideas across time and space.”

Read more about Professor Suthersanen’s work on her Queen Mary profile page.



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