WIPO Candidates Address Civil Society Concerns on Access, Transparency 23/04/2008 by Kaitlin Mara for Intellectual Property Watch 2 Comments Share this: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)By Kaitlin Mara Candidates to be the next director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) had the opportunity to meet with civil society groups recently to discuss how WIPO’s strategies for the future might involve both more transparency and better accountability to stakeholders in environmental, social, and economic issues. José Graça Aranha of Brazil, Francis Gurry of Australia, Masood Khan of Pakistan, James Otieno Odek of Kenya, Philippe Petit of France, Bojan Pretnar of Slovenia and Yoshiyuki Takagi of Japan took advantage of the 15 April event, where they were each given a chance to answer one of eight questions on the future of WIPO and its relationship with civil society organisations and issues. Gjorgji Filipov of Macedonia and Jorge Amigo Castañeda of Mexico, though unable to attend, sent in written responses to the civil society questions, which are available here (Filipov, pdf) and here (Amigo, pdf). The event followed one day after an official WIPO meeting of the candidates with member states, which was closed to the media. The selection of one candidate to be recommended to the full WIPO membership will take place on 13-15 May. The biographies of the candidates may be found on the WIPO website. Interviews with candidates conducted by Intellectual Property Watch are available here. Candidates at the civil society event answered different questions. The following are some highlights of the discussion. The need to have WIPO at the centre of global debates on intellectual property policy – as a focal point of IP expertise and as a platform for IP disputes – was mentioned by nearly all of the candidates. Many also spoke of the need to boost staff morale. Civil society representatives asked questions on public health and IP as well as WIPO’s ability to liaise with public interest groups and to build capacity – through the Development Agenda and through technical assistance – for beneficial IP policies in developing countries. A More Engaged, Accountable WIPO? Communication and integration with other IP-focused organisations as a vital activity was a major theme for the director general candidates. Moving WIPO from “isolationism to engagement” is necessary, Gurry said. Khan emphasised consensus building, developed-developing nation collaboration, and a multi-stakeholder approach, saying that WIPO’s major weakness now was in “not asserting itself as an agent of change,” capable of engaging various actors working on IP issues. Khan noted that the power of civil society should not be underestimated, that it represents the intersection of worldwide interests, and that “no one constituency has a monopoly over the writ of WIPO.” Graça Aranha said that the next director general would have to “put the house in order,” to put WIPO “back in the centre of IP discussions.” He further said that “civil society has to participate.” Khan and Odek highlighted accountability issues. When asked about how to better make norm-setting empirical, Khan said impact assessments should be conducted “not as an encumbrance but as a tool for decision-making” and with the required due diligence. Consulting a “wide spectrum” of stakeholders, including business, new global actors, civil society when testing norms is “not an option, it’s an imperative,” he said, adding later that it was a responsibility of WIPO to reach out when civil society organisations have new capabilities for development. Khan called for the setting of “benchmarks, with deadlines,” for judging the next director general. One major task is coping with the “appalling degree of polarisation” in WIPO, he said, adding that if the organisation faced the “same malaise after a year” it should be considered a failure of the director general. Khan further added that if merit is not there, none of the 15 candidates should be elected. Odek called for the setting up of an “ethics office” to deal with transparency and accountability issues. Replying to a question about his viability as a candidate from the same regional group as the outgoing Director General Kamil Idris (Sudan), Odek said “when you talk about an African not succeeding an African, you are encouraging divisive politics at an international level” and said that merit, service delivery, and integrity should be the key characteristics of the next director. Pretnar said it is important to remember that all decisions are made by member states. Petit separately made a similar point, saying “WIPO is not here to impose solutions,” but rather to put forward “suggestions that can be debated by stakeholders and decided by member states.” Others emphasised WIPO’s leadership role in the IP field. Graça Aranha, responding to a question on actions he would undertake to ameliorate countries’ concern over negative impact of IP rights, said that challenges to the IP system must be addressed within the “existing legal framework” and that debates over access to medicine or educational materials should take place within WIPO, as it is the UN organisation mandated and with the technical capability to handle IP issues. Odek said that WIPO needed to be converted from a “conservative organisation” to a “proactive organisation,” that it should not be one of a pack of other international organisations but should instead “lead from the front” on IP. WIPO in the Developing World Several candidates discussed how to handle the new Development Agenda. Gurry said his priority recommendations for its implementation were to “reduce the knowledge gap, and the digital deficit” in developing countries. The public benefit built into the IP system – the disclosure of information – is limited in efficacy without digitisation, especially in developing countries that do not have big libraries, he said. Gurry added that scientific publications, especially in the life sciences, were becoming increasingly important to the patent system, with 20 percent of patent applications citing a science article as a source, and that these needed to be available. He then discussed a plan for putting together multidisciplinary teams to design action plans for particular countries’ IP circumstances, and mentioned the importance of translating information into languages other than French and English. Takagi pointed out a need to “address lack of infrastructure and capacity in developing and least developed countries” and to strengthen the education system as a basis of innovation. Odek said that WIPO must help developing nations “extract tangible benefits from the IP system” and that the director general should provide leadership in addressing traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. He added that strategies “at a grassroots level” are needed: working with national institutions to create frameworks for IP policies and strategies. Pretnar said that it is possible to integrate the Development Agenda with the general mandate of WIPO, and that “the same IP system with which many of you [civil society organisations] aren’t happy can be used as a beneficial economic tool,” with or without exceptions. As evidence, Pretnar cited a case of India handling a patent application for a key HIV medication. Rather than trying to skirt the IP system, India found prior art on whose basis the drug patent is to be rejected at the US and EU patent offices and likely in India as well. Pretnar further added that “we have to make a distinction between inappropriate behaviour of IP owners and whether IP itself is inappropriate,” and said if appointed director he would engage in “informal diplomacy” to handle abusive practices of IP owners. Organisational Structure Some candidates had thoughts on WIPO’s most important focus areas and processes. Petit cautioned that the scope of WIPO is “much, much larger” than just patents and industrial property; that the organisation was about “promoting capacities for innovation in every country.” Takagi later wondered if recent emphasis on innovation had been too weak. Citing the surmounting of past health crises with technology breakthroughs, such as penicillin, and the facilitation of communication and knowledge building due to innovations like the internet, Takagi said more attention should be paid to stimulating “innovation and creativity to overcome global challenges.” WIPO could be a provider of information on how to make the most stimulating policies, he added. The event was co-organised by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), the Third World Network, and a group of other civil society organisations. The event organisers said they are planning to make a webcast of the event available on CIEL’s website. Kaitlin Mara may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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