Part 1 Debate on Intellectual Property By STEVE LOHR n the 19th century, the United States was both a rapidly industrializing nation and as Charles Dickens, among others, knew all too well a bold pirate of intellectual property. But these days, when it comes to dealing with developing nations around the world, the United States seems to be ignoring its own swashbuckling heritage. Or at least that's the implication of a recent report by the international Commission on Intellectual Property Rights. The report recommends that the World Trade Organization's treaty on intellectual property rights be made much more flexible so that developing nations, from Brazil to Bangladesh, can adopt rules more at their own pace. The global debate over intellectual property rights patents, copyrights and trademarks is focused mainly on forward-looking industries like computer software, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. But Americans can look back to this nation's 19th-century experience in book publishing, for example, to understand the developing world's viewpoint. Back then, American law offered copyright protection but only to citizens and residents of the United States. The works of English authors were copied with abandon and sold cheap to an American public hungry for books. This so irritated Mr. Dickens whose "Christmas Carol" sold for 6 cents a copy in America, versus $2.50 in England that he toured the United States in 1842, urging the adoption of international copyright protection as being in the long-term interest of American authors and publishers. Such appeals proved unpersuasive until 1891, when the United States had a thriving literary culture and a book industry that wanted its own intellectual property protection abroad. So Congress passed a copyright act extending protection to foreign works in return for similar treatment for American authors overseas. Indeed, the economies that were shining success stories of development, from the United States in the 19th century to Japan and its East Asian neighbors like Taiwan and South Korea in the 20th, took off under systems of weak intellectual property protection. Technology transfer came easily and inexpensively until domestic skills and local industries were advanced enough that stronger intellectual property protections became a matter of self-interest. But according to the recent report, this kind of economic-development tactic copying to jump-start an industry is endangered by the United States-led push for stronger intellectual property rights worldwide. As part of a sweeping trade deal reached in 1994, the member nations of the World Trade Organization must adhere to a global agreement known as Trips, for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Trips stemmed partly from the prevailing belief during the 1990's that the "American model" free trade, wide-open capital markets and strong intellectual property protection was the sure way to global prosperity. But just as the prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund are now being questioned, as prosperity has proved elusive for countries like Brazil and Argentina, so are the W.T.O.'s intellectual property rules. "If we cut off imitation strategies for developing countries, we are drastically narrowing the options they have to reach an economic takeoff," said John H. Barton, a professor at Stanford law school who led the commission on intellectual property rights. Many economists regard the 1994 agreement as a triumph for a few industries pharmaceuticals, software and Hollywood that stand to gain a lot from the protections and whose interests were championed by the United States government. "Trips was a matter of powerful companies with intellectual property concerns essentially dictating trade policy," said Keith E. Maskus, a trade expert at the University of Colorado. The United States does stand to gain the most from stronger intellectual property protections, most of which must be in effect by 2005, under Trips. A World Bank study estimates that American companies would pocket an additional $19 billion a year in royalties, while developing nations like China, Mexico, Brazil and India net importers of intellectual property would pay more to the patent holders.