Crisis At WIPO Over Development Agenda; Overall Objectives In Question

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The World Intellectual Property Organization Committee on Development and Intellectual Property finished a weeklong meeting yesterday having not achieved the week’s goals and with harsh words from delegates calling into question the very functioning of the organisation. At the heart of the dissent is WIPO Development Agenda and its implementation in the United Nations agency.

After several weeks of growing discontent and a stubborn lack of consensus in several committees in what WIPO Director General Francis Gurry characterised as “cycle of disagreement;” the storm broke at the close of the 13th session of the CDIP, which was held from 19-23 May.

WIPO Objectives Questioned

At the heart of the power struggle is the Development Agenda of the organisation. Adopted in 2007, it aimed at instilling a development dimension in all WIPO activities. However, the interpretation of this development dimension and how it should be implemented is regularly an object of friction.

Last night, after a tense week, final statements sounded warning signs of a deep political divide on the orientation of the organisation, which developed countries underlined was financed by users of the global IP system, and whose main goal is the promotion of the protection of intellectual property, and developing countries recalled is a United Nations agency with development at its core.

The United States said, “It is unfortunate over the last several years that the positive effects and efforts in the organisation, many of which directly benefit developing and least-developing countries. have been impeded by the mischaracterisation of the Development Agenda.”

“WIPO’s role as spelled out in the WIPO Convention [the Convention establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization] is to promote the protection of intellectual property,” the delegate said. “This objective has not been changed by the Development Agenda.”

“Instead, the Development Agenda was intended to ensure that development considerations form an integral part of WIPO’s work, not to obstruct such work,” the delegate said, adding that the US “has long asserted that the implementation of the Development Agenda should not negatively impact the substantive work of WIPO committees.”

“It may be time to collectively re-think the function of the Development Agenda if it continues to be an obstacle to WIPO’s substantive work on its primary agenda,” she concluded.

Uruguay, for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC), often seen as trying to play a facilitating role, expressed regret that “this week has been a reflection of what has been happening over the last month.”

“We are not able to reach an agreement on issues of substance,” he insisted. “GRULAC as usual has tried to extend bridges across very specific positions. But it has not been sufficient,” as extreme positions kept being presented.

“After hearing a series of declarations from groups and delegations, I am more concerned than ever,” he declared. Certain delegations “seem to forget that this is a United Nations agency that is negotiating the post-Millennium Development Goals.”

“For some people, the word ‘development’ creates a sort of an allergic reaction,” the delegate said. “In adopting the 45 recommendations of the Development Agenda, we were not given a gift, those are not crumbs, it is an integral part of the work of this organisation, period,” he stated. GRULAC will not change its position, which will continue to be flexible, he said.

The European Union also expressed concern. Greece on behalf of the EU said the WIPO convention “clearly defines the organisation’s mandate.” WIPO’s mission, it said, “as a guarantor and promoter of intellectual property rights, gives it a unique role in facilitating the creation of prosperity, and contributes to worldwide economic development.”

The adoption of the 45 Development Agenda Recommendations did not alter the organisation’s mandate, she said, adding that, “At this current juncture, member states need to reflect on the future role of this committee, to ensure it continues making a relevant contribution to WIPO’s mission. We look forward to contributing to this reflection.”

The EU reflected on its own commitment to the promotion of sustainable development and in the WIPO context, its support to technical assistance and capacity building.

The Development Agenda should not be reduced to merely the provision of technical assistance and activities undertaken by WIPO before the inception of the Development Agenda, said Egypt.

Despite the unique nature of the financing of WIPO, “it has to remain a member-driven organisation serving public interest,” the delegate said. Member states are accountable to their population, not to any other constituency, she insisted, calling for a review of the functioning of WIPO.

South Africa delivered a vibrant statement, starting by saying the delegation had not intended to take the floor but felt it had “just woken up from a nightmare from all the other interventions, which were very much disturbing, to say the least.”

Although regretting the absence of agreement over the week, “what we cannot run away from is the fact that there are some delegations who hold the view that the organisation can go back to pre-2007,” he said. “This is something my delegation will fight to the end for!”

“We understand the WIPO Convention,” he said, but this organisation is not a company and we are not part of a board of directors who need to answer to someone. We answer to the public,” he said. The people of South Africa are “the only people that we answer to, irrespective of who funds the organisation or where the funding comes from.”

“We need to go back to the drawing board, all of us as member states, to pinpoint as to where the issues have gone wrong … and try to resolve those particular issues” for the organisation to be going forward, he said.

“WIPO is part of the UN community, a community of nations, of community of member countries who are viewed by the UN charter to be equal,” he said. The Development Agenda “is not going to go away, whether you like it or not.”

Several WIPO Committees Hampered

The previous week, the failure to agree on an agenda item relating to the Development Agenda pushed the Committee on WIPO Standards (CWS) to adjourn the session after a week of unsuccessful informal discussions. Experts were left to discuss informally on the other agenda items (IPW, WIPO, 20 May 2014).

Earlier this month, an extraordinary General Assembly could not agree on the convening of a diplomatic conference (final treaty negotiation) to adopt a procedural treaty on industrial designs out of disagreement over how to address technical assistance (IPW, WIPO, 10 May 2014).

In an equal misfortune, at the start of the month, the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) found itself unable to agree on the conclusions by the chair, delaying a decision on a diplomatic conference to adopt a treaty protecting broadcasting organisations (IPW, WIPO, 5 May 2014).

Crisis Situations Provide Best Solutions, Chair Says

In his concluding remarks, the CDIP Chair, Djibouti Amb. Mohamed Siad Doualeh, said the concerns that were voiced were serious ones, and called for a collective reflection on where the committee stands and where it should be going. A collective reflection should enable the strengthening of the collective will of states to pursue and deepen the dialogue with the view to reach common goals, he said.

Some would say that multilateral negotiations in many respects resemble a herculean task, but it remains a noble objective worth pursuing, he said.

Since I have been presiding this committee,” he said, “I have never been so preoccupied,” but at the same time hopeful “because it is in those moments where we approach crisis situations that the best decisions are taken,” he said.

Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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