Proponents Fight To Keep IP Issues At High Level At WTOPublished on 30 July 2009 @ 1:08 pm
By Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch
With governments looking to close the long-stalled Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks in 2010, what will happen to remaining disagreements on intellectual property issues is still unclear. But proponents of amending the World Trade Organization intellectual property agreement reasserted the need to have them addressed.
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy told member states at a 28 July General Council meeting that recent informal meetings on IP issues were “not focussed” on “whether, and if so how, these issues should be linked to the broader negotiating agenda.” But what is clear is the importance of the issues to some member states.
A coalition of governments seeking IP amendments is determined to have some kind of result at the end the round. “Everybody can see that the coalition is very strong and determined to get something in Doha,” a member of the coalition told Intellectual Property Watch. Further, the coalition “will not be broken,” and might be growing bigger, said another.
However, at this point in the negotiating process – with 18 months remaining until the newly proposed deadline for negotiating – it is too early for states to be issuing ultimatums as to what must be on the table in the final negotiations, a source explained to Intellectual Property Watch.
Informal talks on possible amendments to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to require disclosure of origin of genetic resources used in patent applications and to extend high-level protection currently enjoyed by geographical indications on wines and spirits to other goods are proceeding at a high political level.
The closed informal meetings, chaired by Lamy and limited to the ambassadors plus one expert from each of 16 countries, have been happening since March and will continue after the summer holiday with the first planned for 8 October. A briefing on the informal process for the full WTO membership, held Monday, also attracted several ambassadors.
Disagreement still remains, Lamy told the General Council Tuesday, over the status of these two IP issues as related to the WTO work programme and negotiating package. Past debates often stalled on whether or not there is a clearly defined mandate to negotiate on them.
But, said a member of the coalition, even those who do not believe there is a mandate need to engage more with the issues, or risk jeopardising the Doha Round. When two-thirds of the members propose an issue, the coalition member said, it is no longer possible to “just say there is no mandate.”
The coalition, a group of 110 countries, is often referred to as “W/52” supporters after a compromise document [pdf] the group created uniting states who were fighting for disclosure of origin on genetic resources with states fighting for stronger GI protection.
A great deal of hope is being placed in this informal process by the W/52 proponents, who seek changes they argue are critical to prevent the misappropriation of genetic resources and traditional knowledge, and to protect key agricultural products.
In the informal meetings, “the questions being asked are highly technical,” and “the answers being given are highly technical,” a proponent of the changes told Intellectual Property Watch, adding the hope that the meetings represented the “right mix of politics and expertise” to bridge gaps in consensus.
The meetings are intended to “shed light on the technical aspects of the two issues,” Lamy told the General Council. While this so far “has not bridged the gaps,” the “gaps are better defined.”
But those who do not support W/52 say the connection between GI extension and the disclosure of origin amendment – referred to as the “CBD” amendment as it grew out of a mandate to examine the relationship between TRIPS and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – is not justified, as the issues are too different.
El Salvador, Guatemala and Cuba raised this point at Tuesday’s General Council meeting, a WTO official told Intellectual Property Watch.
There is more flexibility on discussing the CBD proposal, with all governments in agreement that the prevention of misappropriation of genetic resources is desirable and only differing in how to ensure that TRIPS “effectively supports those objectives,” Lamy said.
One proposed way forward on the biodiversity issue by those not looking to amend TRIPS is the creation of a database of genetic resources and traditional knowledge. But members of W/52 are not convinced this is the best solution.
A database would be useful for patent examiners, and would help prevent low quality patents by providing evidence of prior art, said one W/52 proponent. “This is great, but we didn’t make the CBD/TRIPS proposal to prevent bad patents.” CBD/TRIPS is to prevent misappropriation – and without additional protection a database might even exacerbate the problem, as it would provide easier access to the knowledge, the proponent added.
Governments do seem unified on Lamy’s method of handling the issues. There “continues to be support among members for this method of continuing consultations, provided there is adequate transparency,” Lamy reported to the General Council.
Kaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com.