Global Congress On IP And Public Interest Adopts Principles For Negotiations

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A recent conference on intellectual property and the public interest concluded with the adoption of public interest principles to guide international trade negotiations and international organisations.

The Open African Innovation Research (Open A.I.R.) conference and the Global Congress on IP & the Public Interest took place in Cape Town, South Africa from 9-13 December. The conference hosted by the University of Cape Town was funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and Germany’s Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), among others.

Principles adopted at the conference included transparency, preservation of rights within international agreements such as national flexibilities, protection for internet service providers, strengthening of the public domain, and access to knowledge and to medicines.

The event included a fairly diverse representation, and not all participants necessarily signed on to the principles that emerged from the event.

According to infojustice.org, some 200 people have signed the “Global Congress Declaration on Public Interest Principles for International IP Negotiations,” which is available here.

The declaration calls for “’a positive agenda in international intellectual property law making’ which would include a more open negotiating process, respect for stakeholders’ social and economic welfare, and preserve states’ freedoms to protect access to knowledge goods,” infojustice.org said.

In particular, the declaration took aim at the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) being negotiated by 12 countries led by the United States. It urged negotiators of the TPP and future negotiations to ensure the “ongoing release of proposed legal provisions for public comment and maximize the ability of all interested persons and organizations to observe and participate in negotiation processes.”

Other principles, which echo debates at international organisations in Geneva, include ensuring that nations: retain sovereignty to take actions in their public interest without constraint from intellectual property rights, be able to use anti-circumvention measures without liability, and that IP enforcement measures be “reasonable and proportional.”

Additional principles called for avoiding “the creation of new dispute resolution fora parallel to, and that may conflict with, the multilateral system,” and ensuring that IP agreements are “consistent with international law, including international human rights law and the Convention on Biological Diversity.”

Finally, the declaration said: “We record our serious concerns about the closed and secretive processes being used for current international negotiations while acknowledging the efforts of some countries to promote positive proposals within them.”

Statement on Global Fund IP Policy and Generics

Also at the Cape Town event, a statement was adopted raising concern over a policy being considered by the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that would establish tiered pricing for medicines.

“We note with growing concern the weakening of the Global Fund’s support for expanding access to safe, affordable generic medications as the answer to unaffordable essential drugs,” the statement said. “We are extremely concerned about the recent announcement of a ‘blue-ribbon Task Force’ on tiered-pricing of medicines in middle-income countries.”

In addition, the statement raised concern about a new Global Fund partnership with the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations on “fake medicines.” It said the effort could create confusion in consumers’ minds about generic medicines. For them, the best approach would be “strong drug regulatory agencies together with effective technology transfer.”

“The Global Fund should retain its public interest focus and disentangle the interests of public health from the interests of those who claim intellectual-property over drugs,” it said. “Regressive policy suggestions and public campaigns that undermine generic competition are counter to the Fund’s public mission.”

Open A.I.R.

One aspect of the Open A.I.R. project is that the fellows who have been trained over the past few years now will go out and spread the word.

Seble Baraki, legal researcher at the Justice and Legal Systems Research Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, told Intellectual Property Watch, “I go and tell people what I’ve learned and see how it is going to help” on issues like health or branding to ensure high quality products.

“By being here, I think I have brought the issue of IP in my government,” she said. For instance, they have a conference on law and development with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and she has consistently mentioned that they should include something on development and IP. Now, they have agreed to do it, she said.

From studying in the North (Sweden), she had a certain idea about intellectual property. “Being part of this project helped me to see how to look at how to use IP from a public interest and development perspective.

Now, she said, she plans to go home and look at how it really makes a difference in her city, to see how IP can be used. Being part of this project, she added, “changed how you think about IP.”

Other Highlights

The weeklong conference was packed with speakers and activities, and involved many of the leading figures in the public interest movement related to intellectual property rights. It also involved a first-time training on traditional knowledge related to IP rights.

The death of South African leader and “father” Nelson Mandela profoundly impacted the meeting. For example, a participant from Côte d’Ivoire said he was going to “live tweet” a journey through Mandela’s whole life, traveling from country to country.

Separately, Diane Peters, general counsel at Creative Commons, suggested a focus on a positive agenda, not taking away the right of another. There are ways to structure a dialogue so that everyone’s needs are addressed, she said.

“We are all part of some ecosystem,” she said, thinking and learning from the ideas of others.

Limitations and exceptions are a right, Peters said. Authors should recognise that they also are re-using others’ ideas, same for the people who re-use and remix. “I’m really happy with how the dialogue-shaping is going,” she said.

Peters also said Creative Commons takes the view that their licences are not an answer to the problems of the copyright system. (CC licences include the version used by Intellectual Property Watch allowing re-use of our content for non-commercial purposes with attribution.)

[Update: Creative Commons recently issued a policy statement on copyright reform.]

The Struggle for Balance

Discussions during the week showed the diversity of topics and interests in fields affected by intellectual property rights. There were few vocal champions of the IP system, but there also was no blanket condemnation of it. Rather, discussions were attempts to address specific opportunities within IP, or concerns about its effects in certain cases. Not everyone held the same view and there were some debates during the week.

But given the variety and number of advocates from different sectors, such as the access to medicines and access to knowledge movements, there were some rallying cries around certain issues.

One relatively common area was the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), as concerns are high about raising IP protection levels without the participation of public interest groups. A speaker asserted that the United States is using the TPP to target BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) as it did in the negotiations for the 1994 World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

There also were a number of discussions about the meaning of “open,” in issues like open access, open education, and open source. On a related note, Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Bangalore, India-based Centre for Internet and Society, said there are different types of open standards, and that using digital signatures instead of biometrics gives a decentralised system that protects human rights.

One speaker said they had been struck during the week by the need for a South-South network. Another asked how developing countries can use IP frameworks that have been predetermined in the North and that are not appropriate.

Participants repeatedly expressed positive attitudes about such a large and high-energy gathering (which the beautiful setting did nothing to diminish), allowing endless networking opportunities. But there was an urgency about the gathering for many, as global efforts to strengthen the IP system are working against their goals.

“We are seeing an assault on pretty much every single level,” one public health advocate said at the closing session. “Even when we win” and are able to advance the cause for access to medicines, the judges have been trained by the North (meaning with a pro-IP slant) and “turn the whole thing over.”

George Washington University Prof. Susan Sell described the “forum-shifting” that occurs with forces seeking to strengthen global intellectual property rules, as they seek international organisations where they can effect change in their favour. She likened it to a “cat and mouse” situation. She also said that IP policy is not an end in itself, but is public policy.

A participant from Jordan said that country did not play “cat-and-mouse” very well as when it signed its bilateral free trade agreement with the United States it took in all the bad aspects of the US copyright law.

Another speaker said the IP system does not encourage innovation for need but rather innovation for profit. He said governments in countries with strong rights holders are “captured,” and that governments need to be recaptured. He said organisations like the Gates and Clinton foundations are promoters of strong IP protection. Developing countries, activists, need to stop being the mouse, he said, and “start becoming the dog that chases the cat.”

“How do we forum-shift to all of the spaces we can win,” another speaker asked later, “[and] push the IP maximalist agenda to where we are not always on the defensive?”

“We are seeing an assault on pretty much every single level,” said a third. “Even when we win and are able to insert an agenda for [access to medicines], the judges have been trained by the North and turn the whole thing over.”

The mood, as Sell characterised it, is that “we can never stop and congratulate ourselves too much, because it just keeps coming.”

The annual event will continue next December, this time in Kuala Lumpur.

 

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

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