US Ambassador Sees Hope For WIPO Visually Impaired Treaty This Year

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United States Ambassador Betty King told a gathering of journalists at the US mission yesterday of the important work being done at the international institutions under her responsibility in Geneva, including the World Intellectual Property Organization and World Health Organization.

At WIPO, King said there are legal systems that govern the crossborder flow of copyrighted material, and that the US is “very much hoping to get a treaty on that – or hoping to get some legal instrument on that – by the end of this year” that will allow those materials to flow to blind and visually impaired readers.

The subject of whether it will be a treaty or a lesser instrument is the matter of debate in the WIPO negotiations, but the US in particular was accused of blocking quick progress toward a treaty in July.

At the July meeting of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), it was agreed to leave open the possibility of an instrument being negotiated at a high-level diplomatic conference in 2013 (IPW, WIPO, 26 July 2012).

It is unclear if the issue will come up at the annual WIPO General Assembly in early October, but the next meeting of the SCCR is scheduled for 19-23 November, with the treaty for print-disabled readers prominently on the agenda.

[Update] There is also an “inter-sessional meeting on exceptions and limitations for visually impaired persons / persons with print disabilities” to be held on 17-19 October.

Speaking about IP issues at the journalists’ luncheon yesterday, King said, “I know that intellectual property is an incredibly dry subject,” but said it is “the engine for innovation, creativity and development.”

“This is why the United States and its entrepreneurs and business community have so very much interest in WIPO,” she said. “We are, of course, spending a lot of time there because we want to ensure that the work of our inventors are acknowledged and protected and that their efforts pay off.”

King also praised the completion in July after many years at WIPO of the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances as an example of “concrete success.” “I know lots of our legislators back home and members of the press question the outcome of the work we do here in Geneva,” she said.

“Hollywood, of course, is quite happy” with this treaty, she said, which requires countries to update and be consistent with standards of protection for audiovisual performers and their work.

King also praised the Geneva health agencies and highlighted work done there during her tenure so far. For instance, there is now in place a pandemic preparedness plan for virus-sharing, and the WHO is “fully engaged” on noncommunicable diseases. She noted that while attention was given to the high-profile UN meeting on NCDs in New York one year ago, “it was here in Geneva where the hard work was done.” She also cited the “incredible progress” that has been made on the AIDS pandemic.

WTO at “Incredibly Interesting Crossroads”

Michael Punke, US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization, had favourable words to say about the WTO’s role, and said, “WTO as an institution is at an incredibly interesting crossroads.”

He told journalists not to see WTO as defined exclusively by the 2001 Doha Round of trade talks, but also as a repository of rules on trade, and the forum where dispute resolution takes place under a “universally admired” model.

One of the ways he said there might be movement out of the negotiating deadlock is in the expansion of the WTO Information Technology Agreement. The original ITA gave a boost to economies, he said, but was completed even before the internet came fully into being.

William New may be reached at

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