Report Assesses IP NGOs’ Impact On Developing Country Negotiators 17/01/2007 by Catherine Saez, 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)By Catherine Saez Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are important players in intellectual property policy debates but should be aware of limitations and potential improvements to their influence with developing countries, according to a new report from the United Kingdom. NGOs working on intellectual property issues have had a considerable impact on the debate in multilateral institutions – raising awareness, providing expertise on technical and legal issues to developing country delegates, and helping the public to understand the importance of intellectual property rights and their impact on developing countries. But their input could be more effective, according to a new report on public interest NGOs, intellectual property rights and multilateral institutions, authored by Duncan Matthews of Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute, who led the IP-NGOs project. “NGOs are key players in international negotiations, raising awareness of problems – and solutions – which sometimes countries do not think about,” said Alejandro Neyra of the Peruvian mission in Geneva. “I think this project provides very useful information about NGOs’ history of support to delegations, especially developing countries, in IP negotiations. And this can be a starting point to gaining a better understanding of how much can they help us in the ongoing negotiating processes that we have before us.” A Valuable Role The survey of the IP policy community conducted during 2006 found that international NGOs have been providing developing country delegates with tools to enhance their negotiating capacity. They supply negotiators detailed advice and technical expertise that may not be available from their capitals, as for some developing countries negotiating positions are not often fully articulated at the capital level. For example, in Geneva, for many delegates, seminars organised by international NGOs are the main orientation mechanisms on intellectual property issues when they first arrive at their missions, the study said. Typically, developing country proposals are prepared in consultation with international NGOs. Interviewees said this helps delegates to make informed decisions, “improves the quality of delegates’ positions, and increases the confidence of developing country delegations to oppose or support certain issues by showing that credible alternatives are available,” the report said. The report found that, in general, NGOs have won the trust of delegates and have good working relationships with them. For some countries, NGOs are useful because they can articulate viewpoints that it would be politically or diplomatically unacceptable for developing country governments themselves to make. The study shows that delegates acknowledge the assistance they have received from international NGOs. However, according to the report, some delegates interviewed by IP-NGOs expressed concerns about the influence of their donors on NGOs. This can lead to international NGOs being more inclined to be responsive to what developing countries say they want to work on. The report also said international NGOs can be perceived as excluding smaller developing country delegations, giving the impression that they focus on delegations seen as more influential. So the author encourages international NGOs to play a greater coordinating role among delegations in different multilateral institutions, engaging in more outreach to delegates that are not the principal players. Comments included the view that international NGOs’ contributions are not a substitute for intergovernmental decision-making, Matthews said. Some delegates interviewed by IP-NGOs felt that on some occasions it was difficult to get neutral answers from international NGOs, that they sometimes lose sight of their role and over-estimate what they can achieve, the report said. Suggestions for Improvement The report cautions international NGOs against playing a more overtly political role, going beyond the provision of advice and technical expertise. Organisations might lose credibility in the future if they are not mindful of the need to be sufficiently even-handed in the ways that they present information to developing country delegates, it said. Other advice based on the interviews includes that NGOs should not seek to use opportunities such as meetings at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to make interventions publicising their own activities rather than offering substantive inputs to the policy debate. The report also states that industry associations and rights holder groups also are considered important sources of information for developing country delegates. Interviewees for the IP-NGOs felt that international NGOs should be trained how to make interventions in multilateral forums because they “miss opportunities to communicate their positions as effectively as industry associations and rights holder groups, which tend to bring convincing arguments rather than simply opposing proposals in a general way,” the report said. Multilateral institutions could do more to build capacity amongst delegations, the report states, and to ensure the flow of information to developing country delegates and to government officials at the capital level. According to the report, networks can assist in coordinating NGO inputs into intellectual property policy-making. In Geneva for example, IP coordination meetings in the past have been held regularly and enabled participants to divide activities depending on their different mandates. The author called it unfortunate that coordination activities are becoming less frequent in the Geneva-based NGO community. Southern NGOs Seek Greater Presence at International Bodies Although many developing country NGOs working on intellectual property issues are undertaking “good and effective work at the national, regional, or sub-national level,” their activities are not widely acknowledged because they do not have an international profile, the report found. NGOs in the South also work alongside forms of public action, particularly in relation to agriculture, genetic resources and traditional knowledge, where social movements are extremely knowledgeable and effective in communicating their concerns about the adverse effects of intellectual property rights. Many social movements and farmers’ groups work in tandem with NGOs. Southern NGOs must address the issue of distance from the multilateral institutions, the report suggested, yet they often lack the funding to do so. For some groups, direct participation is seen as preferable to relying on having their view put forward by international NGOs seeking to speak on their behalf, the author said. Many social movements and local communities would prefer capacity building initiatives to enable them to represent their own interests, with funding provided for travel and subsistence. The report suggests that one option that could alleviate this problem would be to make greater use of regional consultations and public hearings such as those held by the World Health Organization (WHO) Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH), which concluded work last year. The report was based on an academic study funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, involving 60 face-to-face interviews with representatives of NGOs, developing country delegations and the secretariats of the World Trade Organization (WTO), WIPO, WHO, the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. It stressed that engaging with intellectual property issues requires long-term strategies on the part of the NGOs that must be underscored by long-term commitment on the part of donors so that the significance of contributions that NGOs have made to intellectual property policy-making and norm-setting activities in multilateral institutions will become more apparent. Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com. 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