Positive Outcome For WIPO Committee On TK, Folklore, Genetic Resources

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By William New
The World Intellectual Property Organization committee on traditional knowledge and other issues concluded a weeklong meeting with a compromise way forward that a range of government officials said was a positive outcome that maintains committee progress.

“The meeting was a good one in the sense that we came forward with new ideas” on how to proceed with the issue, the African Group coordinator said afterward. “It’s a good start,” a developed country government representative said.

The compromise decision on future work struck at the end of the last day does not contain any dramatic actions but rather calls for a secretariat analysis and member state review over the next 8 months. There may be possible member state consultations with the committee chair toward the end of that time, sources said. Talks may intensify in the second half of the committee’s new two-year mandate set out last October, according to the agreement on future work.

The Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) met from 25 to 29 February. The next meeting is scheduled for 13-17 October, sources said, which likely comes just after the naming of a new WIPO director general.

During the week, some developing country members raised concern about a possible lack of progress in the committee. The members pointed to developed countries, who have generally taken a more methodical approach to internationalising the issue of intellectual property and these issues of particular interest to developing countries.

The final agreement on the committee’s future work called for the WIPO secretariat to prepare separate documents on international protections for traditional knowledge and for traditional cultural expressions/expressions of folklore, which is the current term used at WIPO for folklore. The documents also would describe gaps at the international level using examples, identify factors for whether the gaps need addressing, describe options, and include an annex with a matrix to show all of these things.

A draft of the document will be made available by the secretariat on 31 May, with comments by 30 June and a final draft published by 15 August, according to a copy of the agreement.

The African Group coordinator said the gap analysis would not resolve all issues but is a “new approach” that adds focus to the committee’s work. African countries remained convinced of the need for a legally binding treaty on protection of TK and TCEs.

On genetic resources, the secretariat will not undertake a gap analysis, but will reissue documents on the issue for “full in-depth discussion” at the next IGC meeting (the 13th since its inception). Members may submit comments on those documents before the October meeting.

The text on future work, proposed by the Singaporean chair, also stated that, with a view to accelerating the work of the committee, the committee would at the next meeting: “consider taking a decision on proposed modalities and terms of reference for the establishment of intersessional mechanisms or processes, as well as other possibilities, to continue and to build on the progress achieved so far, in a structured and focused manner the technical work of the three substantive items between its sessions, on the basis of proposals submitted by committee participants circulated prior to [the next meeting].

The future work document also states that at any future meetings, all three substantive issues – traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources – “should be discussed in depth and that the time allotted to each item should be balanced.”

A developing country official said genetic resources is “clearly not on an equal footing” with the other two issues, which the official said will advance on the basis of the gap analysis. Genetic resources were not discussed extensively during this week, and the issue likely will remain toward the end of the next meeting’s agenda as has been the case in recent years despite a developed-country proposal this week to move it up, a source said. The two-year mandate suggested a difference in priority for TCEs and traditional knowledge, another source said.

An official representing Group B developed countries told Intellectual Property Watch such countries showed support for elevating genetic resources in the committee. The official also said the gap analysis puts in place “something that will allow us to look at this in a sensible manner,” and acknowledged that developed countries are not seeking an international instrument on this issue at WIPO right now.

Developed countries could be eager to raise discussion of genetic resources in WIPO to siphon off attention to it from the World Trade Organization, where some 77 nations have supported an amendment to international trade law on mandatory disclosure of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge aimed at combating piracy of these items. At the WTO, the issue has been tied into the broader negotiations and is seen as linked to European interest in the extension of geographical indications protection.

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

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  1. says

    This is high time that instead of borrowing time to move further the Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) should come out with concrete proposals and mandates to streamline orphan TK


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