WIPO Looks At Mandate On IP And Climate Change, Access For Reading Impaired 14/07/2009 by Kaitlin Mara for Intellectual Property Watch and William New 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)A conference aimed at sketching out ideas for the World Intellectual Property Organization’s involvement in issues of global public policy kicked off Monday with explorations on the link between intellectual property and environmental technology and a separate event devoted to access to reading material for the visually impaired. “Technological innovation as well as transfer and widespread implementation of climate-friendly technology will be central to the effort” to fight environmental devastation, Francis Gurry, director general of WIPO, told the conference. The secretary general of the UN World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud, highlighted the global, borderless nature of climate change, and the need for cooperation. “No country can do it alone,” he said. The WMO is contributing by encouraging sharing of weather data, but faces some tensions about sharing among member states with competition and political concerns. “We must make sure that the very poorest in our societies are able to benefit from new ideas and technology. We also need an IP framework that meets the needs of the rural poor as well as the urban elite and which gives marginalised groups – like the homeless – a stake in new ideas and technology,” said David Lammy, the UK’s Minister of Intellectual Property. The text of his speech can be found here [pdf]. The WIPO international conference on IP and public policy issues is taking place on 13-14 July. The meeting, which grew out of proposals at the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents, is intended to begin exploration of several new issues Gurry and member states have emphasised must be on WIPO’s future agenda: environment, climate change, health, and food security. A conference on access to reading material for the visually impaired took place on 13 July immediately preceding the public policy conference. The topic of exceptions and limitations to intellectual property rights had been proposed as an addition to the global challenges agenda, but concerns from member states that it would distract from the focus on the patent system and technology development and diffusion resulted in its being placed on a separate agenda. Christopher Friend, strategic objective leader on accessibility at the World Blind Union (WBU), called for aid for the 300 million visually impaired people “incarcerated in a world without books” because only 5 percent of literature is available in an accessible format. “How long,” he said, “before the world realises that to deny access to knowledge is to deny people access to a basic human right?” Copyright restrictions create problems because it prevents organisations – usually small – working on accessible formats from sharing resources, said Dipendra Manocha, director of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium office in New Delhi. For example, said Friend, the popular novel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had 5 different English-language master copies produced in Braille and 8 produced in DAISY Audio because copyright prevented the sharing of those master files with other countries. The extra cost meant other books were not made accessible. “In the last years we’ve extended rights to rights holders, including into the digital sphere,” said Ambassador Mario Matus of the Chilean mission to the WTO. “But this hasn’t happened in the same way for exceptions… the time has come for a treaty on visual impairment.” Herman Spruijt, the president of the International Publishers Association (IPA) in Geneva said his organisation was “willing to contribute our fair share” to the effort to expand access but said that solutions must be market driven rather than involve copyright exceptions. IP and the Environment “We know that IP is an incentive, no one denies that,” said Wanna Tanunchaiwatana, who manages the technology sub-programme at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is counting down the days to a major climate change agreement slated to be finalised at the end of the year (IPW, Environment, 18 June 2009). But, she added, incentives for innovators have to be balanced with a need to diffuse technology. “This is not an issue of morality or charity, it’s a commitment issue, under the convention,” she said. Article 4.5 of the convention [pdf] charges developed countries to “take all practicable steps to promote, facilitate and finance, as appropriate, the transfer of, or access to, environmentally sound technologies and know-how to other parties, particularly developing country parties.” And Article 4.7 recognises that “the extent to which developing country parties will effectively implement their commitments under the convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country parties of their commitments under the convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology.” The current negotiating text [pdf] for the UNFCCC dealing most directly with intellectual property is far from consensus. Four pages of text on the topic, heavily bracketed (indicated areas of disagreement) list options for perspective on intellectual property ranging from encouraging patent sharing and compulsory licensing and even patent exclusion for green technology to tax exemptions and subsidies for green technology patent owners, to calls for further empirical research to gather data on the real effect of IP on the ground. Economists can already provide much of this data, said Daniel Johnson, a professor of economics at Colorado College in the US. Market valuation of ecological technology is the key, he said, meaning there are economic reasons to treat it differently as well as public interest reasons. There are effects of green technology use on people other than the buyer and the seller, meaning that market prices do not adequately reflect the true value of innovation, Johnson said. Further, a lot of ecological innovation is fundamental, and open access to it is fundamental for follow-on or incremental improvements, especially as local adaptation is usually necessary. And it is highly sensitive to policy – if you slap a tax on gasoline, it incentivises invention on greener cars, he explained. Others felt that the IP system is key to green technology innovation and diffusion. Carl Horton, chief intellectual property counsel at General Electric, cheered the IP system and said it was necessary to help people “understand and defend the IP system” and to aid technology diffusion by making the patent process move more efficiently, such as by giving special treatment to those with green technology. And Monish Suvarna, president of Intellectual Ventures India, said that the key to increasing respect for intellectual property rights is in increasing developing country ownership over intellectual property. “There isn’t enough IP in developing countries so they don’t see a reason to create an enforcement regime. So we have to help them make IP,” he said. “If there were enough green patents in developing countries, they’d also seek enforcement.” The fact that there was an IP case in an Indian court recently is a “huge step forward,” he said, referring to a case in which Novartis lost a patent right on its cancer drug Glivec. “Not all cases, even in developed countries, go the right way,” he added, saying “it will take a lot of time for countries such as India and China to start paying attention to IP,” but “if you’re patient enough and build the right kind of environment” it eventually works. New Developed-Nation Industry Initiative Meanwhile, at a press briefing alongside the WIPO event, an initiative was announced by representatives of developed-country industry invested in intellectual property rights related to the public policy issues under discussion like climate change technology. The initiative, the Coalition for Innovation, Employment and Development (CIED), replaced a previous but similar initiative called IDEA, and was first announced in Washington, DC. The extensive list of company members is available here. Representatives from the US Chamber of Commerce, General Electric and Sanofi-Aventis argued that IP rights promote innovation that could address global issues. Mark Esper, executive vice president of the Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center, told reporters that people who want to look for exceptions and “carveouts” to IP rights related to climate change would undermine innovation. Esper also said a “movement is afoot” to change section 3d of the Indian Patent Law, which limits patentability. The industry representatives were challenged on the opposition to exceptions by reporters who said developing countries will seek exceptions in Copenhagen or not agree to the final text there. Thaddeus Burns of GE said it is accepted that the ability to use compulsory licences exists in the TRIPS agreement, but that their use “always makes any asset holder feel uncomfortable.” He said technology is transferred “in the real world” by selling it, often by licensing of patented technologies. He also said a focus is being made on centres of excellence in least developed countries to pull investment and markets. As a side note, a participant observed that WIPO may still be familiarising itself with environment issues: none of the conference documents, contained in a plastic coated binder, appear to have been printed on recycled paper. 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