WIPO Members Seek Compromise On Development AgendaPublished on 21 July 2005 @ 12:48 am
By William New, Intellectual Property Watch
Up against a deadline to agree on a final report this week, members of the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organisation debating how the organisation can better reflect developing country needs got underway quickly Wednesday.
The goal this week is “to reach a consensus for a report to the General Assembly that summarizes our work to date,” a U.S. official said outside the meeting.
The quick start differed from the two previous three-day meetings on the subject, where significant time was lost to discussing procedural matters. But despite the quick start, the looming deadline, and meetings in April and June, governments appeared far apart on how to proceed at the end of the day Wednesday. Still, officials from several sides appeared determined to reach a compromise in order to send their final report to the WIPO General Assembly in September. Regional groups were set to meet Wednesday evening and Thursday morning to discuss common positions.
The General Assembly last October called for an Inter-sessional Intergovernmental Meeting (IIM) to address a proposal initiated by Brazil and Argentina to fundamentally reform WIPO to ensure development issues are considered in all its activities. Twelve other countries co-sponsored that so-called Friends of Development proposal.
On behalf of the Friends of Development, Brazil on Wednesday put forward a draft decision of the IIM that called for a renewal of the IIM process, with three additional IIMs to be held by July 2006 and a report to the 2006 General Assembly. The current draft report also would recommend that the assembly: adopt a declaration affirming WIPO’s U.N. mandate, state that this allows alternatives to intellectual property for promoting innovation, and state that the upward harmonisation of intellectual property protection without consideration of the costs for small economies runs contrary to WIPO’s U.N. mandate.
Other proposed recommendations include: to approve the formation of the evaluation office by the end of 2006, adopt proposed principles and guidelines for norm-setting in WIPO, adopt detailed principles on technical assistance, and initiate consideration of measures to improve public interest groups’ participation at WIPO.
Three aspects of the Friends of Development proposal were discussed Wednesday and all received mixed support, loosely along North-South (developed-developing country) lines. One aspect is a proposal to amend the original 1967 WIPO convention to include explicit language on a development dimension in order to more closely resemble other U.N. agencies. The second is a suggestion to establish an independent WIPO Evaluation and Research Office, and the third is to consider ways to ensure wider participation of public interest groups and others in civil society.
On the non-governmental participation, the U.S. delegate arguing against the proposal said that there are 180 accredited representatives of civil society, which is the same as the total number of member governments at WIPO. But a supporter countered that the majority of those accredited represent industry, not the public interest.
New Proposal From African Group
Prior to this week’s meeting, the African Group of nations, chaired by Morocco, introduced a new proposal, which reinforces the group’s previous support for the Friends of Development proposal but also notes other proposals that have emerged since the first IIM in April. Other proposals were submitted by Bahrain, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The African proposal takes a broad view of development, asserting that intellectual property issues are only part overall development for societies, and should not be paramount to those larger issues.
“IP should … be complementary and not detrimental to individual national efforts at development by becoming a veritable tool for economic growth,” the African proposal said. Developing countries’ “right to qualitative life, access to vital requirements such as medicines, food, knowledge and prospects for their intellectual and cultural development, should neither be unduly compromised nor hampered by rigid and indiscriminate enforcement of [intellectual property rights].
It contains specific proposals and calls for the inclusion in discussions of technical assistance, technology transfer, reform of the African informal sector, small and medium-sized enterprises, information and communications technology, human resources and the retention of highly skilled workers (“brain drain”), the use of flexibilities in international agreements, actions in the area of norm-setting, and a stronger mandate on development for WIPO.
Bahrain had an opportunity to discuss its proposal, tabled at the second meeting, which differs from the Friends of Development by not calling for substantive reform but rather focusing on increased technical assistance. Bahrain’s proposal, co-sponsored by 10 other countries in the region, was said at the second meeting to diverge from the views of those countries’ leaders at the South Summit held last month. Bahrain and several other countries on Wednesday told the closed WIPO meeting that they see no inconsistency between the leaders’ positions, the current development agenda at the World Trade Organization, and those in the proposal. Several stressed the need for more financial resources for technical assistance.
Asked about rumours that the proposal was drafted by the WIPO secretariat, a Bahraini official said in an interview that the government developed the proposal itself and only asked WIPO about some technical points. He said Bahrain’s view is that under the status quo, it does not have to sign on to every WIPO agreement that is negotiated, and a country can get more technical assistance to bring it to the level of acceding to WIPO agreements. Bahrain has negotiated a free trade agreement with the United States under which it agreed to stronger intellectual property rights protections.
The Group B of industrialised countries held to its previous position of support for a United Kingdom proposal that development issues be dealt with in an existing permanent technical cooperation committee, but signalled a willingness to consider another form for this idea. Many developing countries have rejected the prospect of fitting all of the development agenda under one specialised committee.
The United Kingdom assumed the presidency of the European Union on 1 July and now will generally speak at WIPO on behalf of the union. EU members have generally agreed with the U.K. proposal on the technical cooperation treaty but were to meet early Thursday to try to agree on ways to move the idea forward in the face of strong developing country opposition, a participant said.
The U.S. official said outside the room that its proposal for a partnership database to improve technical assistance efforts has drawn the least opposition of all proposals. He said the United States opposes the broader development agenda, supports placing development issues under the existing technical cooperation body – or a variation on that idea — and is looking for indications of compromise from the other groups, especially the Friends of Development. He added that the establishment of a new body would be “costly” and “duplicative.”
The U.S. official also said it was “almost insulting” that the development group put forward a draft decision at the outset of the meeting in which proposals had not been discussed yet, and that the draft states the discussions should continue on the basis of the Friends of Development proposal.
China said that major WIPO treaties have been amended over the years, some many times, updating for social development. But this has not been the case for the WIPO convention, it noted.
Nigeria proposed a way forward that distilled all of the pre-existing proposals into the themes of specific development-related programmes, norm-setting, and the institutional mandate. The Nigerian delegate also suggested that civil society participation could be structured so that organisations, which have specialized knowledge, could more fully participate rather than be limited to short, set position statements at one point in the meeting.
The Nigerian delegate also called on delegates not to take entrenched positions on which committee would handle development issues but to focus on the issues themselves. “As they say where I am from, ‘It is of no consequence if it comes from a cow or an ox as long as it is fresh milk,’” he said.