WIPO Negotiators Seek Final Agreement On Key Issues At General Assembly

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Government negotiators at the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organisation General Assemblies continued their work into the weekend to try to reach agreement on key outstanding issues.

All discussions of these issues have reverted to closed, informal meetings, in contrast to the weeklong formal meetings open to accredited non-governmental observers. Since the assemblies began on 26 September, most agenda items have been agreed. The assemblies end on 5 October.

The remaining unresolved issues are the extension of a high-level meeting on a development agenda for WIPO, the scheduling of a diplomatic conference for negotiating a broadcasters’ rights treaty, and whether to continue a committee discussing global patent harmonisation. The broadcasting treaty did not advance on Saturday, according to sources.

A fourth issue agreed upon on Saturday was a call for action on recommendations by the U.N. Joint Inspection Unit which found fault with WIPO’s financial and management practices.

Perhaps the most contentious issue is the development agenda proposed at the 2004 General Assembly by the 14-member Friends of Development group led by Brazil and Argentina. That assembly created an Intersessional Intergovernmental Meeting to address the issue during 2005. Debate over the 56 proposals put forward over the past year in relation to the development agenda has been reduced in this General Assembly to which forum to keep discussing development in 2006.

As of Friday, the United States appeared nearly isolated in its continued insistence on putting development issues into a beefed up Permanent Committee on Cooperation for Development Related to Intellectual Property (PCIPD). The vast majority of other countries showed support for the continuation of the IIM, many voicing concerns that the PCIPD lacks the potency of an IIM.

EU Switches Sides Again In Call For New Development Committee

But overnight, the European Union, which supported the IIM extension in July but has insisted that it is flexible on which forum is pursued, came out in support of a reformed PCIPD. The industrialized countries, referred to as Group B, put forward a new proposal Saturday that would replace the PCIPD, which would cease to exist.

The proposal resembles a United Kingdom proposal from earlier in the year and according to sources gained the support of Mexico and possible consideration of some other developing countries. One official remarked with criticism that the U.K. proposal ended up getting special consideration when it was only one of 56 proposals on the development agenda.

Under the Group B proposal, the committee would meet in two one-week sessions. The current PCIPD meets only once every two years. The Group B proposal also contains language aimed at appeasing concerns that all development issues would be relegated there for indeterminate periods of fruitless discussion.

It said the IIM process would be continued in the new committee “to accelerate and complete the discussions on proposals” and report any recommendations to the 2006 General Assembly.

It also said the committee mandate would be all issues related to IP and development, “without prejudice to the work in other WIPO bodies.” This was intended to affirm that development issues could be brought up by anyone anywhere in WIPO. But some developing countries lost faith when China raised a proposal on patent harmonisation Friday to include genetic resources with four patent issues sought by the developed countries and was told that the issue should be dealt with in a separate committee on that issue whose mandate was renewed earlier in the week. According to sources, an effort was made Saturday to reduce concern about that occurrence.

On Saturday, India also put forward a new development agenda proposal, which would create a task force on intellectual property and development. The chair earlier in the week drafted a proposal that the IIM be continued for three more sessions, which has been the Friends of Development position.

At the close of negotiations Saturday, no agreement had been reached. Negotiators were expected to take Sunday off and return on Monday. Work must be completed on Monday in order for translations to be made Tuesday and final adoption of the report to take place on Wednesday, the scheduled end of the meeting.

New Chair’s Proposal On Patents

The General Assembly was asked to decide on the future work program of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents, which stalemated in discussions on a Substantive Patent Law Treaty sought by the European Union, Japan and the United States.

The chair’s proposal built on a Group B proposal to hold an informal, five-day open forum in the first quarter of 2006, which was greeted with reservation by some developing countries who are still stinging from a process they felt was unfair in 2005. The chair added a two-day open-ended working group to determine a “prioritized work program of the topics based on the discussions of the open forum.”

The chair appeared to further sweeten the pot by specifying that three days of the initial open forum would be devoted to discussions about issues of interest to developing countries such as public health, public interest flexibilities, genetic resources, traditional knowledge, competition and exceptions and limitations. The other two days would be spent on the preferred topics of the trilateral countries – prior art, grace period, novelty, and inventive step. The issue was left unresolved at the end of the day, with changes expected to the draft proposals.

Delegates leaving the negotiations said they were generally positive about progress overall.

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