WIPO Standards Committee: IP Geeks Meet Policy Wonks

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The United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization is by its nature a crossroads of IP technical expertise and global public policy wrangling. But the difference between the two became more pronounced at last week’s meeting of the WIPO Standards Committee, according to participants.

The Committee on WIPO Standards (CWS) met from 30 April to 4 May. All documents are available on the meeting website, here.

Experts made particular progress on a new WIPO Standard (ST.96) on the “processing of industrial property information using XML (eXtensible Markup Language),” a common document format. They also progressed on a variety of other proposed changes to technical standards related to patents, trademarks and design. Another example was WIPO Standard ST.67, on the electronic management of the figurative elements of trademarks.

But a roadblock remained on committee procedures, coordination and ties to the 2007 WIPO Development Agenda, which are policy issues. Developing countries sought to link the committee to the Development Agenda by requiring reporting, while developed countries said the technical body has no direct relation to Development Agenda reporting, according to sources.

In order to proceed, the committee conducted business on two tracks for the week: technical issues and political issues. They occasionally reconvened in plenary sessions to discuss progress, participants said.

A summary by the chair was agreed to that reflects the lack of agreement on the policy side. Informal consultations on the coordination mechanisms, Development Agenda and special rules of procedure will be held with the chair of the annual WIPO General Assemblies starting immediately to try to reach agreement before the annual Assemblies in October.

A nearly final draft of the chair’s summary from the last afternoon is available here [pdf].

There were several changes made to the chair’s summary before the close of the meeting, but the final draft is not available. The last changes were mainly related to the rules of procedure and the coordination mechanism, sources said.

A seemingly low-key subject, standards are closely watched by developed countries and can have a significant impact on industries, creating opportunities and changes in the direction of technological development.

Within WIPO, the purpose of the new committee on standards is still taking shape. But since its creation two years ago, the standards committee has found itself entangled in a larger debate at WIPO about the organisation’s development orientation and the power of the 2007 Development Agenda, which was intended by its drafters to infuse a development dimension into all WIPO activities.

The CWS has a short but rocky history (IPW, WIPO, 1 November 2010). Last week was only the second meeting of the committee, the first coming in October 2010.

The draft report from the first meeting [pdf] was adopted last week, with the addition of a line stating that “no agreement was reached on organizational matters and special rules of procedures.” Also added, according to a participant, was that “some delegations stated that adoption of the agenda was without prejudice to the right of delegations to propose agenda items on coordination mechanisms to the agenda of the next session of the CWS.”

The CWS is designed to meet once a year in person, with communication on technical issues during the year. The next meeting is expected in the first half of 2013.

The CWS is guided by WIPO Assistant Director General Yo Takagi (Japan). The meeting last week elected Gunnar Lindbom of Sweden as chair, and Oksana Parkheta of Ukraine and Eichii Yamamoto of Japan as vice-chairs.

An Exception to Development Agenda Oversight?

“This is a highly technical meeting,” Takagi told Intellectual Property Watch, held in the context of the internet age where IP offices are increasingly networking and dealing with Web-based applications.

Takagi said some consider that WIPO should have a way to work on technical issues in the same way the International Telecommunication Union or International Standards Organization do. Those international organizations’ technical bodies would not be expected to discuss policy issues such as access to medicines because they lack the understanding, he said.

The United States in the meeting expressed the hope that technical experts not be subjected to political debates in the committee in future, according to a source. A technical expert asked about the meeting upon departure said simply, “it was an education.”

Developing countries could be concerned that if the Development Agenda is not applied across the board to every WIPO activity that more exceptions might start appearing, a source said.

The organizational matters document fully reprints the 2011 General Assembly clarification of the mandate of the CWS from its creation at the 2009 Assembly. The clarification mentions that the secretariat will “provide technical advice and assistance for capacity building to IP Offices,” but it does not explicitly reference the Development Agenda.

Some developed countries pointed to the clarification as a basis for keeping the Development Agenda issue out of the committee, but a Development Agenda Group representative said after the meeting that, while the clarification stands, it does not preclude the broader Development Agenda connection.

There are references to the Development Agenda in the CWS meeting document CWS/2/11, entitled, “Report on the Provision of Technical Advice and Assistance for Capacity Building to Industrial Property Offices in Connection with the Mandate of the CWS.” But the reference is not in the title, and it makes clear that technical assistance is provided by the secretariat, not the committee.

The procedures for the committee are “special” because they call for task forces to be created for specific issues, with an “e-forum” to be set up for each task force that can carry out work over the course of the year and report back to the annual CWS meeting, which reports to the General Assembly. In the absence of agreement on special procedures, the general WIPO committee procedures apply, which do not involve task forces and e-fora.

Document CWS/2/2 pertaining to organizational matters and special rules of procedure, prepared by the secretariat, is available here.

From a technical standpoint, the meeting was considered a success.

“I am extremely happy with the work and progress we have done,” Chairman Lindbom told Intellectual Property Watch. He compared it to the Geneva Marathon taking place simultaneously last week.

“It’s difficult. The technical person has to understand the diplomatic person, and vice versa,” Lindbom said. “The language these two groups are speaking is not the same.”

This is a change from the past, he said, where the issues dealt with by this committee were only technical. “Now things people say can lead to a misunderstanding.”

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

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