The Hunt Is On To Advance Or End Development Agenda At WIPO

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By Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen and William New

Nations negotiating on a range of proposals to increase the development dimension at the World Intellectual Property Organization are divided over ways to either advance or conclude the talks.

The first proposal for a WIPO reform agenda for development came in autumn 2004, and a steady stream of proposals has followed. Now as the first of two weeklong meetings of the Provisional Committee on Proposals Related to a WIPO Development Agenda comes to a close, how governments choose to proceed could decide the fate of the development agenda.

Consultations with the chair about clustering the more than 50 proposals in categories led Thursday to a generally accepted draft chair’s paper with six headings. Overnight, governments must choose under which headings their proposals belong.

The headings are: technical assistance and capacity building; norm-setting, flexibilities, public policy and public domain; technology transfer, information and communication technology and access to knowledge; assessments, evaluation and impact studies; institutional matters including mandate and governance; and other issues.

A general strategy of the Group B industrialised countries appears to be to wrap up the talks in this year, and to limit the substantive changes to WIPO’s mandate or operations.

A key element of the strategies is how individual proposals will be treated after the clustering. Group B members have generally maintained all week that proposals should be treated one at a time and should only move forward with consensus. They also have shown reluctance for WIPO’s mandate to be reworked.

Lead US delegate Paul Salmon of the US Patent and Trademark Office told the meeting that the 2005 WIPO General Assembly’s mandate in creating the provisional committee was that it accelerate and complete the process of discussing the proposals. He said it was expected that the committee make recommendations to the assembly, but that it was not to recommend a program of work. He stated that under clustering, proposals without full support should not be brought forward, with an eye toward avoiding “continuing indefinitely” discussion of proposals.

A US official also indicated that since the deadline for new proposals passed on Monday, it would not be appropriate for originators of proposals to modify them now. This could make it difficult for different proposals to be converged.

Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the group supports the principle of grouping proposals, and suggested grouping those with consensus apart from those needing more discussion.

Meanwhile, the 15 Friends of Development, whose proposals originated with Brazil and Argentina, appear to be seeking a convergence of proposals (including reworking WIPO’s mandate to make it more development-oriented), and a decision to move ahead with the talks.

Debate is focused on whether the proposals should be placed under the clusters in a horizontal or vertical fashion. The main difference appears to be that a vertical list might lead to proposals being addressed one at a time, whereas a horizontal treatment might lead to a melding of proposals. Proposals are likely to be listed without reference to their origin, but the meeting chairman said there might be a document also listing the original proposals and their origin to pass on to the General Assembly.

Despite objections by several developed countries to taking more time for a comparative analysis of proposals, the chair chose to circulate a chart drafted by Argentina that shows four headings (instead of five) with space for relevant proposals by origin laid out side by side beneath. In this document, the issue of mandate and governance was first instead of last (as in the chair’s draft), although all sides seem to agree that the order of listing is not significant.

While the chairman indicated proposals would likely only appear under one category each, Pakistan said there are cross-cutting proposals for which more flexibility might be needed for placement. Some other governments agreed.

Separately on Thursday, several non-governmental organisations were upset after meeting chairman Rigoberto Gauto Vielman of Paraguay cut them off in their floor presentations, saying they were off the subject of the development agenda or too long-winded. Vielman, who sources said referred to one presentation as “propaganda,” later apologized profusely for any offense.

Disagreement on Whether Piracy Belongs in Development Agenda

Thursday morning discussions focused on the US proposal, but there was disagreement among delegates on whether the issues of counterfeiting and piracy mentioned in the proposal belonged in the development agenda at all. Separately, the chairman continued working on a list of topics under which the proposals would be organised.

The US proposal contains six suggestions with the last one focusing on “counterfeiting and intellectual property piracy: development’s antonym.”

At one point, the Romanian delegate took the floor and referenced anti-counterfeiting initiatives in Brazil. The Brazilian delegate responded that Brazil believes such measures are important but there is another WIPO committee dealing with these issues although WIPO does not have any enforcement mandate. Brazil does not consider these issues to be development issues, he said.

The Brazilian delegate also said he found it unusual that Romania was citing anti-counterfeiting measures carried out in Latin America, to which the Romanian delegate replied that he had also highlighted domestic efforts.

China echoed the Brazilian position, arguing that if the issue of counterfeiting was brought in, it would weaken the PCDA discussion on development.

A number of countries welcomed suggestions in the US proposals, however. Australia and Panama said they supported the US proposal of a WIPO partnership office seeking out all potential partners such as non-governmental organizations that could help countries move towards a knowledge economy.

The Nigerian chair of the African Group told Intellectual Property Watch that the group had no opinion on the counterfeiting issue at this point as it feared discussing this issue in plenary could distract the delegates from the development agenda. Such issues could be discussed with individual countries, the spokesperson said.

But the African Group welcomed the US proposal and said it would fall under the categories technical assistance and information and communications technology (ICT).

Separately in the morning, there were also suggestions that the WIPO secretariat should suggest which proposals would be realistic to take forward from a budgetary and staff point of view. Some countries such as Argentina disagreed with this view, saying that it was a political task of the member countries and not the secretariat to decide which proposals should be put forward. The possible concern was that budgetary constraints might be used to try to trim proposals.

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