TRIPS Council: LDCs Request Extension of Transition Period, While Members Discuss Innovation

14 November 2012

Least developed countries (LDCs) have asked their fellow WTO members to again extend the transition period for implementing the organisation's intellectual property rules, citing concerns that the situation of the WTO's poorest members has not improved sufficiently since the last extension. The 6-7 November meeting of the WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) also saw members debate the relationship between intellectual property and innovation for the first time, while revisiting previous discussions regarding biological diversity.

Poorest members ask for additional time to implement TRIPS

At last year's Ministerial Conference - the WTO's highest decision-making body - trade ministers directed the TRIPS Council "to give full consideration to a duly motivated request from least developed country members for an extension of their transition period." (See Bridges Daily Update, 18 December 2011)

When the WTO agreements entered into force in 1995, the organisation's poorest members were given until 1 January 2006 to implement the obligations contained in the then-newly adopted WTO TRIPS Agreement. In 2002, the LDC transitional period was extended until 2016 for pharmaceutical patents, with a later decision extending the period for all intellectual property (IP) rights until July 2013.

The proposal presented last week by Haiti on behalf of the LDC Group would extend the period for such members to enforce the TRIPS Agreement further - specifically, until a given country "cease[s] to be a least developed country member."

According to the proposal, "the situation of LDCs has not changed significantly since the last extension decision in 2005... [and they] have not been able to develop their productive capacities and have not beneficially integrated with the world economy."

Sources tell Bridges that no decision was taken on the issue; the request will be discussed again at the next TRIPS Council meeting.

Innovation makes its way into WTO discussions

Following a proposal by the United States and Brazil, members of the TRIPS Council kicked off their first-ever debate at the WTO on the interface between IP and innovation.

During the discussions, many delegations reportedly emphasised the crucial role of innovation in creating long-term economic growth and improving living standards, sources told Bridges. In addition, countries broadly agreed that intellectual property protection has strengths and weaknesses in spurring innovation.

However, developing countries argued that the current system gives an advantage to larger corporations, and emphasised the need to use existing flexibilities to achieve a balanced IP regime and innovation environment.

According to Brazil, the greatest challenge is how to create the optimal level of protection, while recognising that IP is not the only player in the innovation world. In this context, flexibilities such as exceptions and limitations "have a key role to play in calibrating national IP systems in such a way that individual goals of each country can be realistically pursued and eventually met."

Some developed countries, in turn, contended that too much emphasis on flexibilities and mandatory technology transfer would undermine the incentive to innovate that IP protection provides.

"While governments can significantly enhance national innovation, including through IP awareness and an emphasis on quality, it is necessary to also stress the importance of avoiding the temptation of policies that degrade national innovation environments," the US said.

Members push to move talks forward on CBD

At last week's meeting, some members also asked to revisit discussions regarding a proposed amendment to TRIPS that would align the WTO agreement with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The CBD is the main international legal instrument regulating the conservation and use of genetic resources, along with the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their utilisation. (See Bridges Weekly, 9 March 2011)

Ecuador reportedly sought to push the stalled talks forward by asking that the WTO secretariat compile a list of key points in the debates over the past 15 years. The last compilation on the subject was issued in 2006.

However, some delegations argued that the TRIPS Agreement does not conflict with the provisions of the CBD, suggesting instead that the topic is better suited for the World Intellectual Property Organization's Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore - a forum where progress is already being made on drafting a new legal instrument. (See Bridges Weekly, 22 February 2012)

The next meeting of the TRIPS Council is tentatively scheduled for March 2013.

ICTSD reporting; "WTO Members Launch Debate On IP And Innovation; LDCs Seek More Time To Enforce IP Rules," IP WATCH, 7 November 2012.

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