Potential WIPO Reform Discussed At Consumer Conference 22/03/2006 by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe here. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate. BRUSSELS – A consumer-led conference on intellectual property touched on a wide range of issues during its second day, from whether the $9 physical production costs of CDs are saved through digital distribution, to what would be an ideal reform of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Antony Taubman, who heads the traditional knowledge division of WIPO, gave a presentation on WIPO’s work on biodiversity under the headline “The politics of access to knowledge,” and much of the day’s discussion centred around WIPO. The meeting was organised by the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (IPW, Access to Knowledge, 21 March 2006). When asked by a participant what he would consider an ideal reform of WIPO, Sisule Musungu of the Geneva-based South Centre said that this would entail a clear discussion about the objectives and the legitimacy that WIPO enjoys as a specialised agency of the United Nations, as well as a focus on review processes. “WIPO has to pay for the legitimacy it enjoys for being in the UN system,” Musungu said. Susan Sell, a professor at George Washington University, asked Taubman whether WIPO felt an “institutional constraint” in terms of issues such as a proposed development agenda since it receives 90 percent of its funding from the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) with many of the biggest users being powerful lobbyists. Taubman said there were some 50 proposals from member countries on the development agenda and that it was not appropriate for a member of the secretariat to pass any judgment on the process. Taubman also defended WIPO’s efforts to include all views in its work. He referred to a paper WIPO published in 2002 on options for the development of the international patent system (A/37/6) which was meant to trigger discussion but it “did not attract much attention,” he said. Instead, critics argued that WIPO was using a ‘one size fits all’ approach. He added that WIPO is accused of “deliberately creating too many complicated papers” when in fact it is trying to be “as inclusive as humanly possible.” Taubman also talked about the WIPO intergovernmental committee on intellectual property rights and genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore (IGC) which was set up in 2001 to discuss the way forward on protection of traditional knowledge. He said many member countries argue that this committee should “deliver something” by the end of the year such as a treaty, while others argue this is premature. The IGC will meet on 24-28 April. Musungu said that the development agenda has been a “major success” as it has changed the discussion at WIPO. No one, not even the United States, is now arguing that WIPO is an organisation that promotes IP, rather it is about “innovation” and “technology transfer,” he said. Tom Faunce of Australian National University suggested a merger of some UN institutions such as WIPO and the Human Rights Council, or the World Trade Organization with the World Health Organization, to save money and improve legitimacy. Faunce used the term “intellectual monopoly privileges” instead of IP. Kenneth Cukier of The Economist talked about public versus private interest in terms of intellectual property, and said that it is a “uniquely good thing” that there has been shift in the debate with more of an involvement of non-governmental organisations in IP policy. Cukier said that developed countries should be willing to abide by international IP rules that they create, saying that often these countries deviate from the policy when it serves their self interest. The Digital Discussion The discussion also focused on the politics of new technologies including digital distribution of music. Jonathan Zuck of the Association for Competitive Technology took issue with argument that music might be freely downloadable while money could be earned from selling t-shirts and arranging concerts. In this example, the transaction costs of the commercial activities are higher than those of distribution, which is actually an easier way to earn money, he said. Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America replied that it only costs $9 in physical costs to produce a CD and this cost is not there when it is distributed digitally. Cooper also said that creativity and the production of content by non-professionals “is happening” on the Internet. He said that on television there is no non-professional production, in radio, five to 10 percent, in newspapers only the letters to the editor, but on the Internet there is a “middle class revolution” with people speaking through a variety of means. 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