Discussions Continue In Informal WTO Special Session On GI Register 02/12/2008 by Kaitlin Mara for 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 Kaitlin Mara The World Trade Organization body mandated to discuss a registry for geographical indications met Monday, with the only resulting agreement being to meet again later this week for further, more technical, discussions. Several ambassadors were present at the meeting, according to sources, indicating that in the lead-up to a possible ministerial this month countries are hoping to smooth out as many differences as possible. Though with the current impasse on IP issues at the WTO, such resolution is widely thought to be unlikely independent of movement in other negotiating issues that might be used as a trade-off for flexibility. Monday’s meeting was an informal meeting of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) special sessions, which at this and the last formal meeting (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 30 October 2008) turned to discussion not only of a register of geographical indications, or product names associated with a particular place and characteristics, on which it is mandated to negotiate but also to two other key IP issues that a majority of WTO member states are calling for talks on. The other two issues are: the extension of high-level protection enjoyed by geographical indications on wines and spirits, such as champagne, to other goods, such as Parma ham; and a proposal to amend the TRIPS agreement to require disclosure of origin for genetic resources used in patent applications, and possibly also references to prior informed consent and access and benefit sharing with the communities that own the genetic resources. A strategic alliance of 110 countries is pushing for modalities, or ways forward for discussion, on these three IP issues in parallel, while a smaller group of nations is firmly opposed to the linkage between GI register, extension, and the biodiversity amendment. Meanwhile, chair’s texts on the two key WTO negotiating issues, agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA), are expected by the end of the week, and will determine in the days following whether or not decision-making ministers come to Geneva in December to attempt again a successful conclusion to the embattled Doha round of trade liberalisation talks, which have been struggling for consensus since 2001 and failed again to reach it at the last ministerial in July of this year. Movement in agriculture and NAMA will necessarily have an impact on what movement, if any, is possible in IP negotiations this month. Technical Meeting on the GI Register The follow-up meeting expected later this week is an attempt by special sessions Chair Ambassador Trevor Clarke of Barbados to focus on the mandate of the sessions, which is to discuss technical aspects of a GI register, according to officials. It also is intended to offer an opportunity to clarify some of the European Union’s positions on legal effects and requirements for participation in the GI register. However, if member states choose to bring up other IP issues, they are not prevented from doing so, a source said. Critical questions that still remain on the GI register include whether names submitted to the register are presumed to be protectable in all WTO member states, or whether the GI register should simply act as a database that states should consult when making national decisions on the registration and protection of geographical indications and trademarks. The former position is espoused primarily by the European Union, and allows for names submitted to the register to be challenged or opposed by member states. Supporters of the latter position, contained in the joint proposal [doc], worry that this “rebuttable presumption” constitutes “extraterritorial” legal effects that might interfere with domestic laws. Also at issue is participation. The EU had traditionally called for participation to include all WTO members, where the joint proposal has said that participation in the registry system will be strictly voluntary. A document released in July [pdf] by the 110 strategic coalition (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 29 July 2008) showed greater compromise on the part of the proponents of a mandatory GI register, according to an EU source. These compromises are generally said to be dependent on the linkage with the other two IP issues. Kaitlin Mara may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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