TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct05/2)

8 October 2005

Report 1 on WIPO General Assembly
Developing countries call for 'development dimension' in WIPO

The WIPO General Assembly was held on 26 September to 5 October 2005.

It was quite a contentious meeting, with differences among the members on how to proceed with the Development Agenda initiative, whether to convene a Diplomatic Conference on a new broadcasting organisations' rights treaty, and how the negotiations on the Sunstantive Patent Law Treaty should proceed.

The following is the first in a series of reports on the WIPO Assembly. It is a shortened version of the original article in the SUNS (South North Development Monitor). 

With best wishes
Martin Khor



Report by Sangeeta Shashikant (TWN), Geneva, 28 Sept 2005

Member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) made preliminary statements on some crucial issues that will be deliberated throughout the 41st session of the WIPO General Assemblies, whose meetings began on

28 Septmber.

Some of the key issues on which the General Assembly will debate are: how and in which forum the WIPO Development Agenda should be discussed; the future work programme of the Substantive Patent Law Treaty (SPLT); whether to convene a Diplomatic Conference on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations in the second quarter of 2006; and whether the mandate of the Intergovernmental

Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) should be extended to continue its work.

The meeting was opened by the WIPO Director-General, Dr. Kamil Idris, who said that the development goals and aspirations will continue to form the cornerstone of WIPO's initiatives and action, and that the development dimension will continue to be the main pillar.

Ambassador Enrique Manalo, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the UN in Geneva, was elected as Chairman of the Assemblies, replacing outgoing Ambassador Bernard Kessedjian of France.

Many developing countries in their opening statements felt that WIPO needs to do more to address the development dimension in its activities. The general statements raised the concerns that the intellectual property (IP) regime has to be balanced, i. e. it should not favour the IP right holders to the detriment of public interest and public policy. The IP regime must also preserve the national policy space of developing countries to formulate suitable policies and take necessary measures to attain their development goals.

There was also emphasis by many developing countries on the need to assess and understand the costs and benefits prior to undertaking norm-setting and harmonization exercises.

The urgent need to integrate the development dimension in all of WIPO's activities was highlighted by the repeated references by developing countries to the Doha Declaration and Plan of Action adopted by the G77 and China at the Second South Summit in Doha recently.

On the substantive issues, developing countries raised concerns in that misappropriation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge continues and that urgent attention must be given to creating a binding international mechanism to deal with the problem.

With regard to the WIPO Development Agenda, numerous developing-country delegations called for the renewal of the Inter-sessional Intergovernmental Meeting (IIM) process, as it has yet to complete the work that it has been tasked to do by the 2004 General Assembly.

Morocco, on behalf of the African Group, reaffirmed the great interest of the Group in WIPO's activities and made it clear that any possible budgetary deficit should not justify a lack of ambition on the part of WIPO towards activities that are of importance to African countries.

Morocco added that WIPO should privilege the full use of flexibilities provided by international Agreements and endeavour to preserve the balance between the costs and benefits while setting the norms for the reinforcement of the IP system.

It said that the development dimension remains a major concern of African countries and stressed the need for the pursuance of the proceedings on the Development Agenda at WIPO which remain uncompleted since some proposals, most notably that of the African Group, were not discussed at the Inter-sessional Intergovernmental Meetings. The sense of equity and fairness recommends a just and fair treatment of all submitted proposals.

Morocco also recalled the political signal of the Heads of State of the G77 and China at the Second South Summit in Doha, which called on WIPO as a specialized institution of the UN to integrate the development dimension in the whole of its future plans and activities.

On the IGC, Morocco said that the African Group sets a high value on the consolidation of the progress registered at the IGC, with the view to establishing a legally binding instrument to ensure the effective protection of traditional knowledge (TK) and folklore against abusive use and misappropriation.

Participation of NGOs and local communities should also be encouraged in order to give more visibility and importance to the IGC.

Iran, speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said that since many important subjects will be discussed, the implications and the complex nature of the subjects necessitates each to be addressed on its own merit.

It also said that in light of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other recognized instruments, development, as an important worldwide issue, is the main concern of developing countries. WIPO, as a specialized UN body, while working on promotion of the protection of right holders, should also be committed to the public policy and public interest concerns. It also recalled the G77 call during the Second South Summit for WIPO to integrate the development dimension in all its activities.

Iran stressed that in all activities of WIPO concerning the different methods of protection in treaties under discussion such as copyright and related rights, law of patents and reform of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), an inclusive approach should be adopted. The Group has in different WIPO committees repeatedly requested that the issue of misappropriation of Genetic Resources and associated TK in the existing international IPR system be addressed. It has also pushed for far more tangible oriented results, and supported the materialization of an international legally binding instrument.

With regard to technical assistance (TA) programs, Iran said that the Asian Group is of the opinion that TA programs should be demand-driven and take into consideration the particularity of each state, to ensure an equitable balance between the interests of all stakeholders. A one-size-fits-all system cannot properly respond to the needs of developing countries and thus impact assessment studies and evaluating measures can assist developing countries and LDCs to measure the utility and impact of any high protection standard in WIPO's norm-setting activities.

It added that an inclusive, democratic and transparent approach with regard to the established rules of procedures should be sought.

Argentina, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Development (Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Venezuela), expressed their expectation that the WIPO Assemblies consider and endorse the agreements that were reached in the Committees in charge of the different issues.

Reopening agreed recommendations in a context where time is limited and issues many, would not be wise. It also stated that attempting to strike last-minute deals involving separate agenda items that are extremely complex would be even less so, and it would not wish to put the integrity and credibility of WIPO at stake by adopting risky, all-or-nothing type of procedures.

With respect to the WIPO Development Agenda, it said that it is a medium- to long-term process which needs to be tackled at the highest level by means of additional IIMs. It is also of utmost importance to developing countries to ensure that development concerns are effectively mainstreamed in all of the activities of WIPO. Argentina expressed its belief that there was room for improvement in WIPO as an agency of the UN family, in procedural, administrative and substantive terms.

It also said that cooperation and assistance activities must comply with broad development objectives. These activities must not become mere tools for the enforcement of IP agreements to the benefit of right holders and the detriment of a member's national interest. WIPO's assistance should give recipient countries the opportunity to fulfill the entire range of their international IP obligations including the effective use of flexibilities that are an integral part of the IP Agreements and instrumental for developing countries to attain the goals set in the Millennium Declaration.

Argentina added that the IP system should also cater to the interest of those who are concerned with and directly affected by certain negative trends in the field of IP protection, in particular bio-piracy, the misappropriation of TK and the lack of protection of cultural expressions and folklore. These issues that are important to developing countries must be handled through new appropriate and effective substantive international obligations.

It said that initiatives that do not value or take on board the concerns and positions of developing countries will not receive support. It expressed concern that insufficient attention had been given to the far-reaching implications of extending protection to new subject areas such as "web-casting"

On behalf of the G77 and China, Argentina said that at the Second South Summit in Doha, members of the Group were "fully convinced of the imperative to continue to act in solidarity and unity for a peaceful and prosperous world that responds to their 'aspirations'". The Group reaffirmed its commitment to the protection and promotion of its collective interests in genuine international cooperation for development. In that context, the Heads of State and Government

Members adopted the Doha Declaration and the Plan of Action of the Summit and called for its implementation.

Quoting the Declaration, Argentina said that it was recognized that in undertaking international obligations, the undertakings may impose high costs, and given the different levels of development, it is imperative that identical obligations are not forced on unequal participants (paragraph 4 of the Doha Declaration). It also referred to a paragraph in the Declaration which emphasized the need to integrate the development dimension into international rule making and the need for flexibility and national policy space for countries assuming international commitments.

The Declaration stresses the need to adopt appropriate measures to overcome the technological gap between developing and developed countries and arrangements that facilitated technology transfer. The Group also believes that restrictive business practices and monopoly rights exercised by global corporations and other entities often impede innovation, flow of information and technology and that a major component of good governance at the international level should be good corporate governance and corporate social responsibility.

Argentina, referring to paragraph 26 of the Declaration, reaffirmed the urgency, subject to national legislation, of recognizing the rights of local and indigenous communities that are holders of TK, innovations and practices and developing and implementing benefit-sharing mechanisms on mutually agreed terms for the use of such knowledge, innovations and practices.

With respect to the Doha Plan of Action, Argentina said that its implementation requires working towards a common strategy for securing national policy space for developing countries in all areas, which allows members to adopt the most appropriate measures and priorities and to realize their right to development

(paragraph 1 of Doha Plan of Action). The Plan of Action also called on WIPO as a UN Agency to include in all its future plans and activities including legal advice a development dimension that includes promoting development and access to knowledge for all, pro-development norm setting, establishing development-friendly principles and guidelines for the provisions of technical assistance and the transfer and dissemination of technology (paragraph 8 vii, Doha Plan of Action).

The Swiss Delegation on behalf of Group B (comprised of many developed countries) said that the overarching goals already set out by WIPO are the right ones and it should continue to exploit its core competencies to build a better understanding of IP, to develop the IP system and to enhance the efficiency of the Secretariat and the services it provides. These are all areas in which WIPO must be successful if it is to play a strong role in achieving the UN MDGs. The Group also urged Members to set patent discussions back on track by approving a limited work plan for the WIPO Patents Committee that supports the common interests of all Members.

The Group indicated that it was willing to continue Development Agenda discussion but in the appropriate forum. Some members of this Group in the past IIMs have been particularly keen to shift discussions to the Permanent Committee on Cooperation for Development Related to Intellectual Property (PCIPD).

The Group expressed hope that the General Assemblies will decide to convene a diplomatic conference on the protection of broadcasting organizations for 2006 in Geneva. It also welcomed the entry into force of the Patent Law Treaty for the benefits it will provide to all WIPO stakeholders.

The Group suggested that the Assemblies follow the advice of the UN Joint Inspection Unit and directed the Director-General to discontinue his practice of personal promotions and to modify the staff rules accordingly.

The UK, speaking for the European Community, supported the development of an international IP system which promotes the economic, social and cultural development of all. The evolution of such a system can only benefit from the full participation of all WIPO member states.

China said that IP should contribute to the accomplishment of the MDGs and encouraged all parties to feel a greater sense of duty to achieve the goals. It also said that during the norm setting exercises, the interest of different countries should be taken into account and while safeguarding the rights holders, it should not be detrimental to the public interest.

Brazil supported the statements made by Argentina on behalf of the G77 and China as well as the Group of Friends of Development. It said that IP can be a spur to development if the national realities are respected. IP protection is not an end nor should it be seen as a one-size- fits-all solution for countries. It added that development is not a concern exclusive to developing countries. It proposed, with other Friends of Development sponsors, that there is full support to make development a concern that should be ever present in all WIPO's activities. There must be balance in the activities undertaken in view of the various visions.

Egypt supported the statement made by Morocco, Argentina on behalf of the G77 and the Group of Friends of Development. It said that IP should be constantly approached in a comprehensive manner with emphasis on its developmental components. Addressing the wider national policy objectives of member states, the difference between their levels of development and socioeconomic conditions and the legitimate rights of the public interest, assures continuing progress in the IP regime.

It also viewed the IIM process as a crucial endeavour which should deliver effective results on how best to integrate development in all activities including technical assistance and norm setting. Referring to the G77 Doha Plan of Action, it said that this reflected the determination of the leaders of developing countries to place development at the forefront of the international IP system.

Egypt stressed that further progress of the IP system would not be sustainable if the development dimension and public concerns are not fully integrated in the system.

South Africa said that in light of the global focus on development, WIPO needs to be guided by broader development resolutions. WIPO, as one of the main institutions, has a significant role to play to ensure that IP rules support development objectives. It also called for the renewal of the IIM process.

The US expressed full support for WIPO's work in promoting IP worldwide, as strong IP stimulates creativity and local investment.