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    Rio+20 Conference Opens With IP, Tech Transfer, Underlying Debate

    Published on 18 June 2012 @ 9:23 pm

    By for Intellectual Property Watch

    RIO DE JANEIRO — As world leaders, along with thousands of government, private-sector and nonprofit participants, get ready to meet in Rio de Janeiro this week, 20 years after this Brazilian city hosted the historic first Earth Summit, there are fears that there may be no meaningful consensus on how the world can become more liveable and sustainable at the same time. And technology transfer, research and development, intellectual property rights are part of the debate.

    Heading into the Rio+20 summit, delegates from 193 countries were still divided over key issues, such as means of implementing the agreements that were reached at the 1992 Earth Summit, or what to do about pollution in the oceans. Another key development expected at Rio+20 was a set of “sustainable development goals,” though it now seems that the best that can be expected now is an overall agreement that we should have such goals. The exact goals, the timeframe, how they are to be achieved, all these details are likely to be worked out later.

    Still another area in which there is no agreement is whether the UN Environment Programme should be strengthened or whether the UN should have a new and more powerful body to deal with the world’s environmental issues.

    “Green economy” is the buzzword phrase at the conference, but there is no consensus on how exactly to interpret these words. A delegate from Mauritius said the Group of 77 developing countries plus China (G77+China) have made it clear that they do not want any “outside interference.”

    “If we must go down the green economy path, it has to be a national process, an indigenous development plan fitting local context,” he told Intellectual Property Watch. On technology transfer, the developing countries are asking for the creation of an international platform for the transfer of technology within the multilateral system, and they will be satisfied if there is an agreement on principle on this, the delegate said. The modalities for working this out can come later.

    The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) is taking place under the shadow of the global economic crisis and this has only hardened the positions of the contending sides.

    Hope is being pinned now on a political miracle during the high-level segment of the conference which runs from 20-22 June and is expected to bring over 100 heads of state and government.

    After formal negotiations ahead of time reportedly did not make much headway, Brazil – which holds the presidency of the conference – was asked to take over. Over the last 48 hours, Brazil has been holding informal negotiations on the various issues which elude agreement.

    On Monday afternoon, Nikhil Seth, head of the Rio+20 Secretariat, told the international media that “Brazil is at the heart of the negotiating process.”

    Seth also said that there were large parts of the text of the draft outcome document on which there is now agreement and a final document was expected late Monday night. Now, instead of labouring over textual refinement, the focus was on the “big picture.”

    One of the most contested issues in the run-up to the Rio sustainability meeting has been technology transfer.

    Everyone agrees that innovation and green technology can play a vital role in shaping a more sustainable world, but the developed and the developing world are divided on the mechanisms needed to make this happen on the ground. Intellectual property rights are a vital piece of this fractious debate.

    Industrialised countries, where most of today’s green technologies have been created, say that a strong intellectual property rights regime is key to research and innovation and any attempt to weaken that, and undermine patents, will be a major disincentive to further R&D in such technology. This resonates with the position of the business sector who view the conference as an unique opportunity to showcase their technological solutions for a greener economy.

    Carlos Busquets, deputy director of the Department of Policy and Business Practices of the Paris-headquartered International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), told Intellectual Property Watch that “intellectual property rights is the driver of innovation and is fundamental to achieving the green economy.”

    The ICC has just released its “Green Economy Road Map” which does not foreground the role of IPR in technology transfer but does allude to ICC’s known position on the link between “effective intellectual property rights protection” and “enhancement of both innovation and technology.”

    Developing countries have a somewhat different point of view.

    “Green economy is a low-carbon economy sensitive to environmental conservation and natural resources. But we believe firmly in the concept of common but differentiated responsibility,” a lead negotiator for LDCs and the G-77 developing countries at Rio+20 told Intellectual Property Watch. “Green economy can work if green technology is transferred to the least developed countries without attaching a huge price tag.”

    “There should be a global kitty under the aegis of the UN from where funds are given to developing countries to help them access these technologies,” the negotiator said. “There are proposals to this effect, like the Green Climate Fund. LDCs have many other challenges confronting them – poverty alleviation, health education and so on, and are not willing to pay for green technologies under patent from their own coffers.”

    A recent report by the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) captured some of the key issues and sticking points between countries on technology transfer and innovation in the run-up to Rio+20.

    “Many developing countries highlight the importance of examining the role of intellectual property, especially patents, as an incentive for innovation and as a factor impacting access to ESTs [environmentally sound technologies],” it said. “Most of these countries underline the need for balanced approaches that respect intellectual property rights while also acknowledging the flexibilities inherent in the IP system.”

    For example, the ICTSD report pointed out, Brazil recognises international protection of IP rights provided for primarily in the World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, but it also recognises that in some cases intellectual property can create barriers to the dissemination and transfer of clean or socially relevant technologies, such as medicines.

    Last week, in an event organised by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and Brazil’s National Institute for Industrial Property (INPI) on the sidelines of Rio+20, INPI President Jorge Avila argued that IP rights make private investments attractive, but for ‘technology diffusion’ to happen, IPRs also have to make transactions reliable and there has to be a solid contractual basis ruling collaborations. For this to happen, he stressed, four things are required: public regulation, public investment, private investment and public-private-partnership coordination.

    India, another emerging economic power, has been arguing that most of the green technologies in developed countries are in the private domain and come under the IPR regime which makes the cost prohibitive. India asserts that developing countries need access to cost effective technologies appropriate to their resource endowments and location-specific factors, to enable them to accelerate the transition to sustainable development.

    The United States advocates spurring developments in science and innovation through the use of incentive systems; investments in education, the workforce, and basic research; and promoting innovative, open, and competitive markets, supported by strong protection for intellectual property rights and transparent, science-based, regulatory approaches and standards.

    Some are pessimistic about the net outcome of the conference. “In the section on technology transfer in the draft declaration, the US, the European Union, Canada and Australia do not even want any reference to technology transfer in the title itself,” Martin Khor, executive director of the Geneva-based South Centre, wrote for the Third World News Network last week.

    The US, supported by Canada and Australia, want to delete the word “transfer” and instead change the title to “Technology development, innovation and science,” he said. The EU also wants a new title: Research, innovation and technology development, Khor said.

    Khor, who has been following the Rio+20 negotiations closely, said: “The major developed countries also want to delete entire paragraphs that call for a balanced treatment of intellectual property rights.”

    These assertions could not be checked by press time.

    Questions Remain

    Will Rio+20 succeed in changing the current rules of the game of technology transfer? Or will the final outcome document be nice sounding text which changes little? The jury is out on that one.

    The business community present in Rio+20 say that many of the emerging economies like India and China who are espousing the cause of the developing world are themselves eager seekers of foreign investment and are unlikely to do anything which will seriously dent the intellectual property rights of companies that offer innovative technologies for green growth.

    Despite the despondent mood at Riocentro, the sprawling conference site on the outskirts of Rio, there are some ideas on the table.

    For instance, one idea is to take a leaf out of public health and point to proposals like the establishment of “patent pools” (along the lines of the Medicines Patents Pool) to finance the transfer of clean technologies and their development in developing countries.

    [Related IP-Watch Articles: Ways Forward Proposed For Tech Transfer & IP At Durban Climate Talks, 11 December 2011; UN Climate Talks Find Make-Do Solution; IP Rights Dismissed, 14 December 2010.]

    Patralekha Chatterjee may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

     

    Comments

    1. Rio+20: who owns the Green Economy? says:

      [...] observer, IP Watch , noted: “… the developed and the developing world are divided on the mechanisms needed to make [...]

    2. Despatches from Brazil « Patralekha Chatterjee's Blog says:

      [...] http://www.ip-watch.org/2012/06/18/rio20-conference-opens-with-ip-tech-transfer-underlying-debate/ [...]


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    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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