Smooth Transition for WIPO

2 October 2008

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) General Assembly ended this week on a positive and consensual note after having witnessed much controversy and polarisation in recent years. The WIPO member states welcomed the appointment of a new Director-General, Australian Francis Gurry, and appeared keen to steer the organisation towards a fresh start.

In his concluding remarks, the Chairman of the WIPO General Assembly, Ambassador Uhomoibhi, of Nigeria, emphasised the success of this year's meeting. "We have achieved a seamlessly smooth, harmonious transition for WIPO," he said. Uhomoibhi also hailed the "positive spirit and goodwill" that characterised deliberations and affirmed that Member states "were united by the vision set out in Mr. Gurry's acceptance speech of a WIPO ready to tackle the big questions, and to assume its place as the pre-eminent global forum for intellectual property discourse."

Embarking on a six-year term as Director-General (see BRIDGES Weekly, 25 September 2008, http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/bridges/news/francis-gurry-to-lead-wipo), Mr. Gurry thanked the 184 Member states for their support and for the constructive spirit that had prevailed throughout the Assemblies. This, he said, provided "a good basis to tackle all the challenges of the future."

During the week-long meeting, which took place from 22 to the 30 September in Geneva and concluded a day ahead of schedule, members of WIPO reviewed the activities of the organisations in a number of key areas endorsing, in most cases, the recommendations adopted by WIPO bodies during the year.

The implementation of WIPO Development Agenda emerged as a key priority in the statements by most delegations, in particularly developing countries which highlighted the need to allocate the necessary resources for this endeavour and integrate the development dimension in all aspects of the organization's work, as this was the ultimate goal of WIPO Development Agenda.

In this connection, member states took stock of the work of the Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP), which was established by the General Assembly in 2007 when it adopted the 45 WIPO Development Agenda recommendations.

Ambassador Trevor Clarke of Barbados, Chair of the CDIP, underlined that modest progress had been made and that there was still a lot of work before completion of the work plan for effective implementation of the 45 recommendations could be realised. The General Assembly approved the work programme for implementing five costed recommendations discussed this year from a list of 26 that require additional resources. In this regard, member states agreed to make resources available to the secretariat in line with WIPO's program and budgetary processes.

In addition, the General Assembly approved the initiation of consultations to organise a donor conference in 2009 to help mobilise additional resources, by encouraging the establishment of trust funds or other voluntary funds, specifically for least developed countries, while continuing to accord high priority to finance activities in Africa.

In the area of copyright, the General Assembly reviewed discussions in the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), and in particular on broadcasting and cable casting organisations, audiovisual performances, and exceptions and limitations to copyright, the three issues to be addressed by the SCCR in the near future.

Not much movement is expected on the two first issues, on which discussions have stalled in recent years. But in the area of exceptions and limitations to copyright, the SCCR had mandated the WIPO secretariat to prepare a study on exceptions and limitations for the benefit of educational activities, including distance education and the cross-border aspects. An information meeting on studies relating to this question will take place in connection with the November session of the SCCR.

With regard to enforcement, the General Assembly examined the deliberations of the November 2007 session of the Advisory Committee on Enforcement (ACE), which addressed the issue of international, regional and national cooperation in the field of enforcement of intellectual property rights.

Developed countries invited WIPO to step up its efforts in fighting counterfeiting and piracy. Latin American countries recalled their proposal that future discussions at the ACE be based on recommendation number 45 of the WIPO Development Agenda which affirms the importance "to approach intellectual property enforcement in the context of broader societal interests and especially development-oriented concerns" with a reference to Article 7 of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS).

Further consultations will be held to determine future topics to be addressed at the ACE.

On genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore, the General Assembly noted the work under the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) on the analysis of gaps in the protection available for traditional cultural expressions/expressions of folklore and for traditional knowledge. With a view to accelerating the Committee's work, the October 2008 session of the IGC will consider establishing inter-sessional mechanisms. Member states also welcomed the further successful implementation of the WIPO Voluntary Fund for Indigenous and Local Communities, noting that it had significantly enhanced the depth and diversity of representation in the IGC process.

Developing countries, in particular the African Group, reaffirmed their long-standing demand for an international binding instrument to protect genetic resources, traditional knowledge and expressions of folklore, making reference to regional instruments recently concluded in Africa with this objective.

In the area of patents, member states welcomed the revival of discussions within the Standing Committee on Patents (SCP) and noted the progress it had made in establishing a work program at its June session.

Delegates further endorsed a recommendation to convene in 2009 a conference on issues relating to the implications of patents on certain areas of public policy, such as health, the environment, climate change and food security.

Ultimately, the harmony prevailing in this year's Assemblies may not reflect a narrowing gap in substantive differences in many policy areas so much as it might indicate a greater maturity in the deliberations of the organisation and a growing realisation that the priorities and views of all countries need to be addressed, as is reflected in the new work programme of the SCP.

In any case, said a delegate of a developing country, "WIPO's new leadership understands that the organisation can no longer operate in isolation from the outside world and needs to engage more significantly with policy challenges it has shied away from in past years."

ICTSD reporting; "Optimism reigns as WIPO Assemblies close, Gurry takes office," IP WATCH, 30 September, 2008; "WIPO Assemblies conclude," WIPO PRESS RELEASE, 1 October, 2008.

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