In A ‘Major Achievement’, WIPO Negotiators Create New Development Mandate

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By William New
Members of a World Intellectual Property Organization committee addressing proposals for a WIPO Development Agenda last week potentially rewrote the UN body’s mandate, pending approval.

Negotiators concluded a weeklong meeting with agreements on a wide range of proposals for new development-related activities – some hard to imagine for WIPO two years ago – and a recommendation to set up a new committee to implement the proposals.

“This is a major achievement,” said a participating official. “It’s a complete overhaul of the WIPO concept, broadening it to reflect society’s growing concern with ownership of technologies and knowledge, and its effects for the future, both in developed and developing countries.”

The 11-15 June Provisional Committee on Proposals for a WIPO Development Agenda (PCDA) also agreed to hold a one-day final meeting on 4 September to approve the chair’s report and the list of proposals to be implemented immediately based on informal consultations, according to an official. The PCDA recommendations from this meeting, and a previous one in February, will be submitted to the September General Assembly for final decision.

June PCDA recommendations to General Assembly here

June PCDA final proposals, clusters A to E here

The United States, meanwhile, moved quickly to emphasise the inclusion of IP protection and that the recommendations are within the existing WIPO mandate. It also sought to tie the outcome to its hope for a renewed effort at harmonising national patent laws.

The creation of the new WIPO Committee on Development and IP, which would hold its first meeting in the first half of 2008, will spell the end of the two-year-old PCDA, as well as a related existing committee, the Permanent Committee on Cooperation for Development Related to Intellectual Property (PCIPD).

The new committee will start immediately to:

“develop a work programme for implementation of the adopted recommendations, monitor

monitor, assess, discuss and report on the implementation of all recommendations adopted, and for that purpose it shall coordinate with relevant bodies;

discuss IP and development related issues as agreed by the Committee, as well as those decided by the General Assembly.”

PCDA Chair Trevor Clarke, the Barbados ambassador in Geneva, would be asked to prepare the initial working documents, including a draft work programme – including financial and human resources needs – in consultation with WIPO members and the secretariat.

All of the 45 proposals agreed in this year’s PCDA process will be adopted by the General Assembly and implemented, the participant said. There were 24 proposals agreed in February (IPW, WIPO, 23 February 2007). There are approximately 21 newly agreed proposals from the June meeting (IPW, WIPO, 15 June); IPW, WIPO, 14 June 2007; and IPW, WIPO, 14 June 2007).

The idea for WIPO reform originated from Brazil and Argentina in 2004. The 45 recommendations were narrowed from 111 proposals submitted by a variety of countries over two years. All of the main issues from the original 111 proposals appear to have been retained in the process.

Proposals agreed last week ranged from technical assistance to the making of rules, to technology transfer, to development impact assessments, to WIPO’s mandate. Topics range from protection to competition to access to knowledge to open collaborative models to support for the public domain. On the latter issue, an earlier reservation by Colombia appeared to have been preserved.

US Ties Outcome To Patent Harmonisation

The United States was seen by others as a gritty but fair negotiator during last week’s meeting. But the US may have had another objective in sight as it agreed to development compromises: patent harmonisation.

Immediately following the meeting conclusion, the United States issued a statement that highlighted the importance of continuing WIPO’s work on development as well as on intellectual property protection.

But it also tried to tie the outcome to the need for WIPO members to revive efforts to harmonise national patent laws, an issue that has met with a lukewarm reception among developing countries in the past.

WIPO members should “intensify consultations with the chair of the WIPO General Assembly with a view to reviving work in a core area of WIPO’s business, substantive patent law harmonisation,” it said. “The 2007 General Assembly should agree not only on development proposals and the creation of a Development and IP Committee, but also on ambitious plans for substantive patent law harmonisation and resumption of the work of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents.”

The patent case may be a hard one for the United States and the rest of the developed countries to make, as they have spent 2007 working outside WIPO with reportedly little success to try to further harmonise their own laws.

Group B+ Patent Harmonisation Meeting Postponed

A planned formal meeting of the Group B-plus (the WIPO developed-country group plus others in the European Patent Organization), to have been hosted by the US Patent and Trademark Office, was postponed. In the meantime, the chair of the process, Anne Rejnhold Jørgensen of the Danish Patent Office, will hold informal consultations, she told Intellectual Property Watch.

One such consultation will take place in Copenhagen on 4 and 5 July. Participation at the Copenhagen meeting is still unclear though countries have been invited, she said. Developed country sources said the formal meeting could be held in the autumn.

It is unclear how much progress developed countries have made in finding ways to make their laws more alike, but they have focussed on a few areas. One is whether to recognise the first to file for a patent or the first to invent the idea, which is the US rule. The United States’ patent reform effort, which has some momentum this year, would include a first-to-file provision, but it would still be different from the European first-to-file and might create new problems, a European official said.

Many developing countries have signalled that they are yet to be convinced of the advantages to them of harmonisation. In addition, a developing country source said the language of the agreed PCDA recommendations makes clear that development was established as a WIPO programme of work, and that it would not be acceptable to link it with patent harmonisation.

The newly agreed Development Agenda proposals along with those agreed at the February PCDA meeting, “reinforce WIPO’s commitment to the needs of developing countries,” the United States said in a release. “At the same time, they reaffirm WIPO’s clear mandate as the specialised UN agency that promotes the protection of intellectual property worldwide.”

The US said it views the proposals as reflecting “member states’ recognition of the role that intellectual property plays in development, and their commitment to providing support to building national capacity to protect innovation and creativity.”

“During the negotiations, the US stressed that efforts to weaken the international IP framework or to fundamentally change WIPO’s current mission, which is to promote the protection of intellectual property, would not be consistent with the economic and development goals of its members,” it said.

The US vowed to “do its utmost to ensure that WIPO continues to contribute to development by deepening and expanding its intellectual property expertise, within its established mandate, and without duplicating the work of other international organisations.”

But it then urged that “the progress made on development issues also extend to other areas of WIPO’s work.”

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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