WIPO Members Agree On Budget As DG Election Picks Up; Idris Gets PersonalPublished on 1 April 2008 @ 12:30 am
Intellectual Property Watch
By William New
The member governments of the World Intellectual Property Organization on Monday reached agreement on the delayed organisation budget for 2008-2009, as election campaigns for the next WIPO director general went into full swing.
The budget was approved after agreement on a five percent reduction in fees charged by WIPO to process patent applications, and acknowledgement of limitations on end-of-term personnel and structural changes at the director level by the outgoing WIPO director general, according to participants.
The half-day 31 March “extraordinary session” of the General Assembly was a resumption of the annual WIPO assembly, which ended in disagreement over the budget last October (IPW, WIPO, 4 October 2007). The disagreement also was related to debate over the fate of the WIPO director general, who will step down one year early, in October 2008.
An informal meeting will be held on Tuesday to discuss procedures for the May meeting of the 83-member WIPO Coordination Committee to choose a candidate from the 15 hopefuls. The informal meeting, open to all members, will be convened by the chair of the Coordination Committee, Hilde Skorpen, deputy permanent representative of Norway to the UN. There has been some question of how many rounds of voting will take place in the May meeting, which starts with all the candidates and ends with one, sources said.
A key meeting will be held on 14 April for member states to meet the candidates, in what one official called a “beauty contest,” though another official preferred not to use that term.
Approval of the budget CHF626 million over two years should free up funds for programme activities beyond staffing, WIPO sources said. Without approval, programmatic work would have been “severely hampered,” WIPO warned in meeting documents. Staff costs amount to some 70 percent of the WIPO budget, an official said. The full proposed program and budget for the 2008/09 biennium is available here.
Idris Speaks Out
Director General Kamil Idris, in a rare exchange with members of the press, hailed the outcome. “WIPO’s back on track,” he said, adding that it is “very good for the organisation.”
“The adoption of the budget today is a sign of good will,” he said, suggesting that the lack of full funding was beginning to wear internally.
Idris said that he is “very faithful” to the organisation, and repeated his view that intellectual property is a driver of development and wealth creation. The programmatic agenda WIPO has followed under his decade “was not a personal agenda,” he said. “It was for everybody.” He highlighted the Development Agenda, genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore, and the Worldwide Academy for training.
Idris said he supports the five percent reduction, despite the impact on the WIPO budget, as it would open markets in developing countries by creating new incentives for inventors. “It’s not a North-South issue,” he said. Idris also mentioned a need for a treaty related to copyright and the Internet but said member states were not in agreement with each other.
Idris struck a personal note by saying that when he is treated unfairly, he rises above the issue. He said he must be treated fairly. He also mentioned that he will not throw his support behind any particular candidate to be the next director general. And as to what he will do next after leaving next October, Idris said he is leaving “all options open.”
Patent Fees Reduced
On patent fees, discussion focussed on an amendment to the schedule of fees of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), under which a patent filer can get recognition for a patent application in all member countries after filing in one. The proposal to cut fees by five percent was seen as a compromise, as developed countries such as the United States (which account for the majority of fees paid) had sought a 15 percent reduction to reflect WIPO’s rising revenues, and other nations had resisted cuts to WIPO’s revenues despite a sizeable surplus, suggesting that the excess might be used to help smaller economies. The reduction will bring the fee for a patent filing from CHF1,400 to CHF1,330, according to WIPO.
The patent fee amendment will cut the international filing fee for least developed countries from the current discount of 75 percent down to 90 percent for countries with per capita national incomes under US$3,000, and extends it to Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Barbados, Libya, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago and the United Arab Emirates.
The change will be effective from 1 July. Some debate broke out over the starting date of the reductions, according to sources, as some smaller economies sought to have it become effective as quickly as possible while others proposed 1 January. The 1 July was a compromise, allowing WIPO to make the necessary changes as soon as possible.
The reduction will equate to a CHF18 million reduction in revenues for WIPO over the 18 months, according to sources.
The US ambassador said in his plenary meeting statement that the US agreed to the budget after Idris informed senior staff that he would leave significant restructuring and promotions to WIPO’s senior management team, which has decided to defer such actions to the incoming director general. This could mean a significant delay in filling the 13 vacant director-level posts in WIPO, sources said. Some developed countries feared Idris would fill the posts before departing, making it potentially troublesome for the next director general, they said.
The US statement said a similar arrangement was made before Idris took office in 1997. But the African Group argued in its statement presented by the Algerian ambassador that similar requirements must then be made of all other departing UN agency heads in Geneva in order to ensure equal treatment.
The United States also said the budget is transitional and will need to be revised at the next General Assemblies in six months to reflect agreed recommendations related to the WIPO Development Agenda, the PCT fee reduction, and decisions relating to staffing.
The General Assembly Chairman was Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi, the permanent representative of Nigeria to the UN in Geneva.
The resumed meeting served as a showcase for campaigners to be the next WIPO director general. Materials touting candidates’ credentials were distributed outside the room of the General Assembly, and candidates were on hand to chat and discuss the finer points of WIPO policy and management.
Intellectual Property Watch has posted interviews with the DG candidates at www.ip-watch.org.
Group B+ Stuck on Patent Issues
Separately, an official from the economies with the majority of the world’s intellectual property, referred to as Group B+, said the group has made little substantive progress on narrowing differences with regards to patent harmonisation despite consultations with the group chair. There may be an effort in Europe to focus on users of the patent system, but no Group B+ meeting is foreseen, the official said. The WIPO patent committee meets for the first time in two year this summer.
William New may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.