Optimism Reigns As WIPO Assemblies Close, Gurry Takes Office 30/09/2008 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment 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 William New Member governments of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization concluded this year’s annual assemblies with high optimism for the future of the intellectual property system and for the organisation. “We’re glad to see WIPO back to its routine,” a Brazilian official said after the assemblies adjourned Monday night. “This General Assembly signals the successful healing process that we have had.” This marks a departure from recent years in which the assemblies were affected by sour feelings from internal, political and financial squabbles. Last year, the assembly ended without agreement (IPW, WIPO, 4 October 2007). Assembly Chair Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria said in closing that every meeting ends with claims of success but that this one really was successful, and that it achieved a harmony seen as impossible one year ago. He said he sees WIPO poised to “assume its place as the pre-eminent forum” in which to discuss international IP issues. The only notable substantive change from a year ago is the departure of Director General Kamil Idris, who left one year early after a loss of confidence which arose from the discovery of his having misrepresented his age at WIPO for some 20 years, and a series of unsubstantiated rumours about financial and human resource mismanagement. But none of those concerns were present at this year’s assemblies, which ran from 22-29 September. Members lined up one after another to wish Idris a fond farewell, and presented him with an award for his decades of service to the organisation. They also sent him off with full director-general-level pay and benefits for the next 14 months, no matter what he does. New Director General Francis Gurry takes office on 1 October, until 2014. Expectations are high for Gurry’s leadership, and all parties are pressing for their interests to be considered. But another reason for the relative peace may be that some of the toughest issues were absent from the assemblies, namely the budget and Gurry’s plan for restructuring WIPO programmes (which he is expected to introduce on 21 October, followed by consultations). Those remaining issues will come to a head at the Program and Budget Committee meeting on 10-11 December, followed by a special General Assembly on 12 December. The WIPO Audit Committee, created in 2005 and which meets on a secret agenda from 6-9 October, also will address several sensitive administrative issues. The report from the last committee in May was adopted by this week’s assemblies, with numerous questions from members such as the United States. Items likely to be on the agenda next week include the activities of the Internal Audit and Oversight Division, follow-up of the WIPO desk-to-desk review that examined staff positions within the organisation and found need for improvement (IPW, WIPO, 10 July 2007), construction of a new office building, procurements, oversight recommendations, and other staff issues. WIPO members also are working to strengthen the organisation’s investigations capability. On policy matters generally, developed countries hope to revive discussions of harmonisation of national patent systems, to improve on WIPO’s efficiency, proficiency and impact, and to keep spending in check (those countries pay most of WIPO’s bills through fees by their users). They also favour greater WIPO involvement in enforcement matters, on which developing countries now basically agree. And there also may be an interest in reviving consideration of protection of copyrighted material carried on webcasts. Developing countries are focussed on ensuring robust implementation of 45 provisions adopted last year aimed at making WIPO and the global IP system more useful and sensitive to their needs, and keeping open additional provisions not yet agreed. They also want to see consideration of a treaty on limitations and exceptions to copyright, and movement in longstanding discussions on the protection of traditional knowledge and folklore. Gurry already has signalled openness to all of these ideas, reflecting that the secretariat is member-driven. There are significant differences in positions that will be as difficult to overcome as ever in the past, though there is optimism at finding solutions this time around. A key issue in the coming months will be defining the power of the new Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP), created at the 2007 assemblies, which is overseeing the Development Agenda implementation. Developed countries are reluctant to allow the committee to have jurisdiction in other WIPO committees such as those related to patents and copyrights. But proponents see development as cross-cutting. “Now we want to work constructively with the director general on effective, successful, dynamic implementation of the Development Agenda,” the Brazilian official said. “We sincerely hope that all the necessary human and financial resources will be duly allocated to ensure the implementation of the 45 recommendations.” On CDIP, the official said it would “not [be] more of the same. Now it is really moving to implementation. There is a renewed spirit of goodwill and confidence in the Development Agenda.” The approach should be to “keep everyone on board, say the Development Agenda belongs to the WIPO membership,” he said. “It’s no longer something proposed by a group of countries. It’s owned by everybody.” He also noted that members have agreed to a conference of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents that will address patents and social and public policy issues, which reinforces the notion that development is cross-cutting at WIPO. Developed countries have resisted the notion that the CDIP has the authority to involve itself in topics of other committees. An official from the African Group, which has been watchful of the Development Agenda progress, said after the assemblies: “people are starting to believe in each other. There is an atmosphere of confidence. I hope this will be the reality.” William New may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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