Debate Heats Up Over WIPO Development Agenda 01/04/2005 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Negotiators attending closed meetings at a UN body in Geneva in mid-April could shape the policy agenda for development and intellectual property for years to come, participants and observers say. It is not clear how the consecutive meetings at the World Intellectual Property Organisation will relate to one another. The first, an “intersessional intergovernmental meeting” (IIM) from 11 to 13 April was mandated to discuss a proposal (WO/GA/31/11) for a Development Agenda tabled at the WIPO annual General Assembly last fall. The second, on 14 and 15 April, is a meeting of the WIPO Permanent Committee on Cooperation for Development Related to Intellectual Property (PCIPD). WIPO officials declined to offer details on the subject matter of the meetings or their relationship to one another. A key issue in the two meetings, according to developing country officials and non-governmental observers, will be whether to create a Standing Committee on Intellectual Property and Development, possibly converting the PCIPD. According to one official, developed countries and the WIPO Secretariat favour this approach, which would have the effect of relegating development issues to a specific forum within WIPO, thereby allowing for development issues to be ignored by other WIPO committees. Another primary issue arises from a US proposal circulated in Geneva prior to the April meetings that stressed boosting technical assistance and partnerships as a way to address development concerns. This suggestion was received with scepticism by those who view it as minimizing larger development issues. Several developed country officials and the WIPO Secretariat would not comment on the question of a separate committee, but a communiqué from a 21-22 March meeting of the Working Group of Industrialised Nations on Intellectual Property and Development mentioned the need to go beyond capacity-building and “deepen our understanding of the relationship between IP and economic, social and cultural development,” a line similar to one in the US proposal. But like the US proposal, the industrialised nation communiqué focused most on capacity building. The meeting was hosted by the European Patent Office in Munich. The 53 delegates attending also discussed existing proposals on the disclosure of the origin of genetic resources and traditional knowledge in patent applications. There was consensus to discuss this further within WIPO. The US proposal also states that, “The US strongly supports exploring new ideas and approaches to strengthen and expand WIPO’s programs to better meet the needs of developing countries, particularly through the PCIPD.” But the partnership program would draw WIPO into a network of other agencies and the private sector, driven by “market-forces” principles. The move to create a separate committee would follow along the lines of how biodiversity issues were handled at WIPO, which some argue have seen little progress (at least on bio-piracy concerns) since the creation of an Intergovernmental Committee on IP and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore. The committee’s creation also has allowed these issues to be sidelined in key debates such as on the Substantive Patent Law Treaty in other committees, one official said. Developing countries and co-sponsors of the development agenda proposal disagree with the establishment of a single body within WIPO to address development. A key aspect of the proposal is a call for systemic change throughout WIPO toward a greater sensitivity to developing country concerns. WIPO is caught in crossfire, as developed countries speaking on behalf of their influential intellectual property-producing industries oppose such a change. A test of the acceptance of development issues at WIPO will be the June meeting of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents, the official said. That meeting will address a proposal by the United States and others to move forward on patent harmonisation. The proposal received support at a February consultation with mostly like-minded governments held by the WIPO Director General in Morocco. A group of developing country sponsors of the Development Agenda proposal issued a statement criticizing the Casablanca consultation, in part because it went beyond the Secretary-General’s mandate from the General Assembly. The co-sponsors of the original proposal to establish a Development Agenda at WIPO were: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Venezuela. At the meeting, developing countries will seek concrete proposals on implementing the agenda, an official said. Proponents of the Development Agenda do not appear to oppose the creation of committees that address aspects of development, such as technology transfer. But they may favour keeping the overall issue at the IIM level until the desired change is brought about within WIPO, so as to keep the issue at a high level, sources said. One Geneva-based non-governmental representative stressed that regardless of what committees are created or mandated to look at the Development Agenda, “a clear and fundamental demand is that development issues be integrated in all WIPO bodies, discussions and activities – from norm-setting to enforcement to technical assistance.” The WIPO meetings have not been without controversy. Non-governmental groups have complained about WIPO’s limit on participation to already accredited organisations. Over 800 people have signed a letter called the “WIPO Manifesto for Transparency, Participation, Balance and Access,” asking that public interest NGOs be allowed to participate in the Development Agenda meetings as ad hoc observers. The letter calls on WIPO to provide assistance in creating a global regime that facilitates open access to knowledge, according to a release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 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