WIPO 2012 Assembly Opens With Talk Of More Treaties

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Citing changing trends in intellectual property and the rise of IP as a major economic driver, the World Intellectual Property Organization, sounding upbeat after the well-received Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances, is setting its sights on the conclusion of three long-delayed treaties.

In his opening speech at the 2012 WIPO General Assembly, Director General Francis Gurry urged member states to work together to repeat the diplomatic success in Beijing last June. Many member states at the opening of the 1-9 October assembly lauded the work of the WIPO chief. He was particularly credited for paving the way for the culmination of the Beijing Treaty, touted as the first treaty on substantive intellectual property law since 1996.

Gurry asked member states to help WIPO finalise the treaty on industrial design formalities; the treaty on genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions; and an instrument on exceptions and limitations for the visually-impaired and print-disabled.

“This [industrial design treaty] is not a substantive treaty, but a business facilitation treaty that simplifies formalities,” Gurry said.

On the proposed treaty on genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional expressions – a prospective legal instrument favoured mostly by developing and least developed countries, Gurry said that some progress has been made in the past two years.

“[B]ut there is still some distance to travel,” he said. “The immediate task before the member states is to design a process for the next 12 months that will lead to a positive outcome and result at the 2013 Assemblies. To achieve that outcome, an intensive process and a great deal of commitment and engagement on the part of all delegations will be required.”

Game Changers

Gurry said the present global IP landscape is being shaped by at least three developments. These are the rise of new markets for IP activities, led by China, South Korea and emerging economies; the increase in international patent applications; and the growing focus on IP and innovation as driver of economic growth.

“While many parts of a successful innovation ecosystem, such as a good education system, lie beyond the competence of WIPO, intellectual property is an essential part of such an innovation ecosystem,” Gurry said. “IP captures the economic value of innovation. It provides a secure environment for taking an idea through the complex journey to commercialization.”

The downside of this particular development, Gurry said, is the fact that IP has become a “battleground” for competition. “This is what we are witnessing with the so-called ‘patent wars’ in the smart phone industry and, more generally, in the ICT sector, both areas where investment in innovation has been considerable and where it has been innovation that has enabled market leadership to be established and the accompanying rewards to be harvested.”

This, he said, calls for the reinforcement of a rules-based international system. “Rules should provide an even playing field and should save us from the temptation to lapse into forms of technological protectionism or mercantilism.”

More WIPO Offices

With IP now being increasingly decentralized, more member states have started to request external offices in their home countries or regions. China and the United States are leading the lobbying for new external offices.

Peru supported neighbor Chile as the host of a new Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) office, saying that WIPO has not allocated enough resources, resulting in fewer staff in its region handling growing patent requirements. Egypt, speaking for the African group, said Africa needs two external offices in the region.

Gurry said on the push for new offices: “I believe that we should advance on this question in a cautious and measured way. We have, over the past year, strengthened the operations of our existing external offices in a number of ways and I believe that this action has produced convincing results.” There are currently WIPO offices in Singapore and Rio de Janeiro.

The WIPO chief also stressed the need to consider the plight of developing and the least developed economies in face of rising IP focus, which he admitted to be “extremely challenging.” To address this, he said WIPO is continuing its various projects related to technical assistance for national IP offices.

Gurry also noted that for the past year, WIPO was able to maintain a healthy financial condition despite the challenging economy and was able to make progress in its construction projects.

The chair of the General Assembly, Uglješa Zvekić, Serbia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said, “I implore member states to reach higher level” toward effective compromise rather than dwell on ideological interests. He stressed the need for trust and confidence, and encouraged member states to “have faith in WIPO as an institution, but also in each other.”

Several appointments were announced today: Singapore Ambassador Fook Seng Kwok will chair the powerful Coordination Committee for the next year. The committee is an executive body of member states. Paul Salmon of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will chair the Berne Executive Committee. A chair was also named for the Paris Union. Vice-chairs are still needed, and will be addressed in a meeting of regional coordinators on Wednesday morning.

The United States in a statement [pdf] on behalf of the Group B developed countries hailed the director general’s work in “maintaining the organisation’s rightful place as the global IP authority.” The group emphasised efforts to increase transparency and accountability at WIPO, welcoming the changes to the Internal Audit Charter. It also noted that WIPO’s expected revenue level had been reached and the outlook for the months quite positive, and that while it is too early to know what savings will be had from cost efficiency measures, they appear to be “on track.” Group B also said it would have preferred to be informed much earlier about problems with the building construction at WIPO.

WIPO Inc.?

Group B also proposed that next year’s General Assembly include a one-day session hearing from industries, aimed at fostering a new, more inclusive approach to industry relations.

“With approximately ninety-three percent of WIPO’s income derived from fees paid by businesses,including SMEs, seeking to protect their intellectual property, Group B believes that these businesses should be involved more in what the Organization does, or at least better informed,” Group B said.

The statement of Egypt on behalf of the African Group called for the future mandate of the Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) should include three sessions, and stocktaking process to the 2013 General Assembly with the aim of a diplomatic conference in 2014. It applauded the AV treaty and the SCCR workplan with a visually impaired treaty in 2013. On industrial design it said a balance is needed between costs and benefits. They said it is important to establish a working group to review proposals on governance at WIPO, that the Coordination Committee should hold more meetings, and stressed the importance of the definition of development expenditures at WIPO.

Hungary on behalf of the Central European and Baltic States noted last week’s World Trade Organization public forum raising questions about the multistakeholder process, and said the AV treaty “has certainly reaffirmed WIPO’s lead in international treaty-making.” But, the group is disappointed that the positive spirit of Beijing is “eluding” the membership now, it said. It made an appeal to advance instruments based on maturity without creating “artificial linkages” between activities. Priorities for the group include the design treaty – where it said remaining differences could be settled in a preparatory conference – broadcasting, the Patent Cooperation Treaty working group, and other issues. But it said the IGC proposals need “further elaboration” which could be solved by continuing discussions. The group supported the Group B proposal for more industry involvement.

The Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), represented by Peru, said it could support the roadmap for the visually impaired treaty, which members have an “unavoidable duty” to complete. It also said extra sessions are needed for negotiations in the IGC. In addition, GRULAC said more staff and funding are needed in the region, and more attention to linguistic needs of member states.

The Central Asian and Eastern European states mentioned technical assistance, support for a diplomatic conference on an industrial design treaty within two years, and the Advisory Committee on Enforcement (ACE). It also welcomed the Beijing Treaty, and called for a diplomatic conference on a treaty on broadcasters’ rights in 2014. It also mentioned “appropriate” exceptions for visually impaired readers, a balanced program for the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP), and welcomed work toward instruments in the IGC.

Cyprus on behalf of the European Union said intellectual property is key to sustainable growth and jobs, and that WIPO needs to concentrate on the IP system. It highlighted broadcasting and copyright limitations and exceptions, and said the design treaty is feasible and it is desirable to call for a diplomatic conference.

The EU recommended to postpone the next meeting of the SCP, originally scheduled for late November, pending consultations. The group stalled on the question of future work at its last meeting, and some officials told Intellectual Property Watch that it might be more productive to work out some differences in consultations before reconvening so soon. It also helps busy delegates from having three WIPO committee meetings in a row at that time.

The United States ambassador in her statement [pdf] praised the “excellent” work being done at WIPO, and called for WIPO to host an industry stakeholder day next year so governments can hear about the “real world.” The US also called for more whistleblower protection at WIPO, as employees should be able to report corruption or other problems without fear of retaliation.

The US also noted that WIPO was cleared by the UN as well as the United States’ own review of WIPO’s technical assistance computer shipments to sanctioned countries like Iran and North Korea, but said “the fact is that no one knew that” before or during the provision of assistance. It noted that US-designed technology was among the shipments without its knowledge.

Zimbabwe later criticised the concerns countries and WIPO Staff Council [corrected] raised about WIPO technical assistance, saying it had tried to paint the assistance as negative and calling it “bordering on blackmail.” Zimbabwe also stressed the importance of concluding the various treaties under consideration, saying failure to do so “would mean continuously denying millions of poor people access to education and also their economic rights over the protection of the genetic resources, traditional knowledge and cultural expressions.”

“We have never denied the need to protect the economic rights of the rights holders, but we are calling for a balance between the rights of rights holders and public interest,” he said. Earlier he said, “we cannot but express our concern over the slow progress and lack of political will by some countries to conclude treaties of interest to developing countries.”

India in its statement raised concern about attempts to strengthen IP rights at the bilateral, plurilateral or regional level, as it believes in “the greatest good for the greatest number” of people, which is achieved through multilaterism. It also referred to need to coordinate with agencies working on issues such as public health and climate change and called for discussions of technology transfer at WIPO, in conjunction with other fora such as the UN climate change body, the World Health Organization or Food and Agriculture Organization. It further said that much work remains to do on ensuring access to medicines for all.

India also said it recognises that IP rights are one of the most important aspects of the “innovation ecosystem,” but that it “must ensure that monopoly situations which may hinder competition and access to technology are not created.”

[Update] Iran in its statement praised WIPO and supported a development-oriented IP system. But it also fired back about the concerns of WIPO computer shipments to the country, suggesting that the concerns were more a matter of manipulation based on national laws.

“Unfortunately, we have recently witnessed that certain countries have made blatant attempts to manipulate the current procedure of WIPO for providing technical assistance to IP offices of member countries,” Iran said. “Clearly, they are trying to turn the organization into an instrument for extraterritorial application of their domestic laws.

“We are confident,” Iran continued, “that WIPO, as a technical UN specialized agency, in conformity with its founding Convention and guiding principles and regardless of any irrelevant considerations, will continue to discharge its responsibilities to effectively promote IP by providing support and technical assistance to its members, in particular developing countries.”

Brazil, in a statement on behalf of the Development Agenda Group, noted that implementation of the Development Agenda “is still a work in progress,” adding that the Beijing Treaty is a big achievement as it is the “first post-Development Agenda” treaty at WIPO. The group also expressed support for the conclusion of the treaty for the visually-impaired and of the industrial design treaty.

At the end of the first day of the assembly, delegates were treated to a performance of classical Indian dance staged by the Omkara School of Indian Dance. The performance was co-organised by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva.

Maricel Estavillo may be reached at maricelestavillo@gmail.com.

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

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