Fate Of Traditional Knowledge A Key Decision At WIPO Assemblies22/09/2009 by Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch 3 CommentsShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (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)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.The World Intellectual Property Organization must be able to set norms for innovation, from the latest development in technology to traditional knowledge systems, if it is to retain its relevance in policymaking, said its director general at the opening of the UN agency’s annual General Assemblies today. “The normative agenda is not progressing,” said Francis Gurry in his opening speech. “There are blockages in several areas,” which pose “several major risks for the organisation.” He cited two areas in particular: the protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, and in the future of copyright in the digital environment.Other key issues for the General Assemblies of the Member States of WIPO, meeting from 22 September to 1 October, include approving a work plan on issues related to patents, and WIPO’s role in global issues such as climate change.Meanwhile, the WIPO Program and Budget Committee last week approved additional funds for implementation of the 2007 Development Agenda, questioned the composition of the Audit Committee and debated the possibility of building a new WIPO conference centre.The annual meetings issue the mandates for WIPO’s work. Key outcomes and recommendations of several of WIPO’s most closely-watched committees will be reviewed and decided upon during the meeting. The first two days are dedicated to a first-time ministerial meeting, with over 40 ministers mainly from developing countries, making speeches.This year’s assemblies mark the first for Gurry as director general, and he opened his remarks with a description of initiatives underway to improve accountability at the organisation.Traditional Knowledge, Copyright, Patents and the Challenge of Climate ChangeA key decision on WIPO’s agenda this week is the future of its committee on the protection of traditional knowledge and genetic resources, where agreement has proved unreachable over the last year.The most uncertain outcome this week is the work of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), on which no formal recommendations on its future work to the assemblies. The group was unable to reach agreement at its last meeting, from 29 June to 3 July (IPW, Biodiversity, 6 July 2009), mirroring an earlier breakdown in negotiations at the 13-17 October 2008 meeting (IPW, Biodiversity, 18 October 2008).Many developing countries are urging that the decade-long committee meetings move to a treaty negotiation on protection of these types of IP rights. The Africa Group, among others, has called for talks on a legally binding international instrument. Others, primarily the Group B developed countries, have said that deciding on a goal prior to beginning negotiations was unwise. Still at issue at the last committee meeting were not only procedural plans for continued work – in particular whether there will be intersessional gatherings, and if so how they will be paid for – but also the ultimate goals of the work.What the General Assemblies will do with the “no agreement” text is not clear; normally the assemblies act on recommendations from the committees. [Update: the draft report of the June/July session of the IGC is now available here [pdf].]Gurry asked delegates to show flexibility and allow the continuation of work at the committee in terms that would allow developing countries to believe international solutions for protection are close.The director general also called for attention to the downloading of content from the internet, where he said there is a piracy rate of 95 percent, and a “new level of disregard for intellectual property.” This is a global challenge, he added, as most if not all forms of culture are migrating to the internet and as new forms of user-generated content emerge. How copyright can work in an environment where there is no difference in quality between a copy and an original, and where a copy can be available widely and at insignificant cost to consumers.Gurry highlighted the importance of the Patent Cooperation Treaty to WIPO. He assured members that a “roadmap” for future improvements on the treaty “is not a norm-making exercise” and that the PCT does not in any way affect the sovereignty of member states.Gurry also gave nod to the UN General Assemblies, taking place simultaneously but in New York, where today they are discussing the challenge of climate change. This topic is also one which needs attention from the IP community, argued Gurry.“There is a perception that IP may be a negative influence on the range of policy initiatives needed to deal with climate change,” he said. But with change needed across the whole infrastructure of the global economy it is hard to imagine that IP rights on one particular technology would be a barrier. Rather, it can be seen as a “system stimulus” for the kind of green innovation that we need, he said.WIPO Sees Positive Revenues for 2008-2009: Next Biennium TougherDespite the economic crisis, WIPO expects to end the current biennium on a “positive financial note,” Gurry told the assemblies today. But the next period will be tougher, with a projected drop in revenues of 1.6 percent. Revenues are expected to start picking up again in the second half of 2010, he said.The provisional budget for the 2010/2011 biennium was approved by the Program and Budget Committee last week with the majority of WIPO’s unallocated resources earmarked for Development Agenda projects. The summary recommendations from the PBC are available here [pdf].At issue was how to allocate resources for as-yet not agreed projects for the Development Agenda, according to participants. The Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) meets in November and again in April, but the next budgetary meeting is not until July. This left many developing countries wondering how projects agreed to in November could begin timely implementation, without the budgetary resources there to fund that implementation.But other countries, mostly from the Group B developed nations, said they were concerned that allocating funding for as-yet unclear projects was out of order, and argued that the project details should be hammered out before funding is granted to implement them.WIPO secretariat staff argued that the Development Agenda budget was in fact larger than it appeared, due to its “mainstreaming” within the organisation. That is, the Development Agenda is not intended to be isolated to the CDIP and its activities but is rather an integral part of every WIPO activity, meaning some part of each programme’s budget is likely to go to development issues, a diplomatic source told Intellectual Property Watch.However, some developing nations pointed out that the Patent Cooperation Treaty system had a CHF44 million franc budget line devoted to “Other” under Contractual Services. If this, they asserted, was not out of order, then allocating money to fund development projects should also be allowed.In the end, CHF2.3 million francs from the unallocated portion of the budget (maintained in case of unforeseen expenses during the year) were provisionally earmarked for the start-up costs of Development Agenda projects that will be discussed in November. This is in addition to the CHF2.24 million francs earmarked for activities agreed to by the CDIP in April 2009 (which was part of the provisional budget going into the PBC last week), sources said. An additional 100,000 francs was also allocated to Development Agenda projects and coordination, meaning a total of 5.64 million francs of the CHF6.996 million unallocated funds are now intended for development purposes.An additional CHF450,000 francs was allocated to other programmes in deemed in need of additional funds during the PBC meeting, meaning that there is a limited level of flexibility in this year’s budget.The financial crisis was a theme throughout the Program and Budget Committee, which met from 14-16 September, as WIPO prepared to tighten its belt in anticipation of lower revenues in the upcoming fiscal year. “The impact of the financial and economic crisis is likely to be felt more keenly by WIPO, an organisation which derives over 90 percent of its funding from fee paid services to the private sector, than by almost any other organisation in the United Nations system,” Gurry said in his introduction to the budget.Audit Committee Working Group, Conference Centre ConstructionAlso discussed extensively during the PBC was the composition of the WIPO Audit Committee, with developing countries calling for it to comprise nine members and developed countries saying it should be limited to five members [Correction: Originally stated, incorrectly, that it was developed countries asking for nine members]. A working group will be formed to review the mandate of the committee as well as its size and will submit a recommendation to the PBC in 2010.A conference centre that WIPO has been asking for was given neither a green light nor a red one, after France and Spain questioned the wisdom of investing in the estimated CHF64.2 million franc project at a time when WIPO was in all other respects cutting down on costs, several sources said. Instead, the PBC agreed to “take note” of the proposals for the conference hall and its proposed timetable, and to consider authorisation of additional funds (though without mentioning when such a consideration would take place).William New contributed to this story.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (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)RelatedKaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com."Fate Of Traditional Knowledge A Key Decision At WIPO Assemblies" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.