Intergovernmental South Centre Bolsters Its IP Programme 20/04/2006 by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch 1 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)The South Centre, a Geneva-based intergovernmental organisation, is gearing up its work on intellectual property by launching a new programme on innovation, access to knowledge and intellectual property. The centre says it already sees the results of the programme in developing countries’ increased involvement in IP, including at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The programme is part of a larger strategic change within the centre, according to the centre’s Executive Director Yash Tendon. “The South Centre will more proactively engage its member states and developing countries in general as well as its other constituencies and the world community to develop new ideas for redesigning and restructuring the global system of economic and political governance with the objective of achieving a more just and equitable order,” he said. The idea of the new IP programme is to analyse the impact of current and future IP rules on development. One major focus will be to boost as well as coordinate research in and among developing countries. The reason for the launch is that there is greater demand from the 49 member countries of the South Centre and other developing countries and constituencies to carry out more proactive research and policy analysis, and to publish IP information that focuses on international negotiations as well as core issues related to innovation and access to knowledge. The needs of developing countries are changing, Sisule Musungu, acting coordinator of the programme, told Intellectual Property Watch. He said that the centre had started working on IP and trade in 1998, but at that time the focus had been more on the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the flexibilities that were available to member countries. Since 2002, the centre has expanded its IP focus to organisations such as WIPO, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and bilateral free trade agreements, Musungu said. This reflects the fact that the developing country focus on IP now goes beyond TRIPS. The centre has learned that it must be flexible, able to change quickly and keep up with the changes in the IP field, he said. The IP programme is multidisciplinary and will focus on legal and economic issues, political economy, as well as research and analysis. “The engagement, involvement and influence of developing countries on international IP policy has changed quite a bit during the past five years” starting with TRIPS, Musungu said. He said the types of stakeholders have changed as has the type of discussions as they “even look into the future” of the IP system now. The development agenda talks at WIPO focuses on “what regime we need in a new world,” he said, predicting that the IP interest would only increase in the future and developing countries would become bigger players. He said developing countries already have an impact, with the proposal for a development agenda the “biggest political and substantive issue” at WIPO at the moment. In his view, the success of the development agenda should not be judged on the basis of whether it results in a treaty, as the discussions on the agenda already have changed the WIPO secretariat and debates among WIPO member states. “There is a huge change already,” Musungu said, adding that WIPO is not only there to promote IP any longer but also is more open to development issues. Four people work in the IP programme, and the plan is to eventually hire a few more. But the idea is to work more with research institutions in developing countries and to network, and “not to build a large bureaucracy here,” Musungu said. The IP team is also carrying out cooperative work with experts such as Carlos Correa of the University of Buenos Aires, who is a special advisor on strategy and research. The centre has 30-35 staff overall. An Independent Idea Generator The South Centre publishes research material, providing options and generating ideas, and is a meeting place aimed at enabling informal discussion among developing countries, Musungu said. It is not providing “policy prescription,” he said, or “typical technical assistance.” For example, at a recent meeting of a critical committee on patent policies, the South Centre circulated an informal background note with explanations of the issues and highlighting key concerns for developing countries. The centre highlights the various options and looks at evidence and impact assessments of IP regulation, such as the TRIPS agreement, he says. “The South Centre is both demand-driven and agenda-setting,” Musungu said, adding that the aim is to focus more on the agenda-setting activities in the future. The South Centre was established in 1995 based on recommendations of the 1987 “South Commission” headed by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. It is an independent think tank with “intellectual independence,” able to “think critically and independently,” Musungu said. This means that it does not speak for the member countries, which may disagree with the centre’s findings if they choose to, he said. The centre’s work and services are available to all developing country governments, whether they are members of the centre or not. The centre’s primary constituency is developing country governments, but also academics, research institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In its work, the centre recognises the nuances and differences between and among developing countries, including least developed countries, Musungu said. Former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt is head of the centre’s board. The nine-member board consists of prominent persons from the South acting in their personal capacities and overseeing the work of the centre. Main Challenges to Developing Countries In working closely with developing countries in negotiations in Geneva, Musungu says he sees some common challenges for them. First, there is a capacity problem, both at the missions and in the governments. Compared with developed countries, the backup to carry out the background work is often lacking, Musungu said. Second, there is a political and power problem, with developing countries generally having weaker political and economic influence on the international scene, he said. He said the developed countries’ industry lobbyists often constitute a stronger voice at negotiation meetings than the industries and NGOs from developing countries. Third, the complexities of IP make it difficult for developing countries, which is related to the capacity problem, Musungu said. “IP is all over the place” nowadays, and there is not enough expertise all around, he said. Musungu said there is not enough research being carried out on specific issues of interest to developing countries. The IP programme will aim to encourage research institutions to carry out such research and link up with other institutions, pointing out that in the United States and the European Union there is a lot material available even on small topics. Larger Strategy The South Centre has a larger strategic work programme which includes the intellectual platform of the South, current core programmes and future programmatic work areas. The IP programme is one of three current core programmes, which include the: trade for development programme; innovation, access to knowledge and intellectual property programme; and global governance for development programme, according to the centre. Future programmes will focus on finance, environment and development and human rights. The centre is funded by the member countries as well as other developing countries, and by donors – mostly foundations and development agencies – on a project-based basis, Musungu said. The concept from the beginning, however, was to establish a fund of which the interest would pay for the operation of the centre. Although the centre has not succeeded at this yet, it is still the goal, Musungu said. 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) Related "Intergovernmental South Centre Bolsters Its IP Programme" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.