WIPO Assemblies Push Back Plans for Design Law Treaty, Agree on New External Offices

13 October 2016

The Fifty-Sixth Assemblies of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reached a close on Tuesday, following an intense week of meetings from 3-11 October on a series of normative and institutional subjects. The annual meetings allow for reflection on progress to date and future policy directions for the UN agency.

As the Assemblies reached an end, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry extended his thanks to “member states for their engagement and decisions that will help WIPO increase its activities worldwide as intellectual property plays an increasingly important role in the global economy.”

Progress on key treaties

Despite a series of informal meetings carried out by Adil El Maliki, who chairs the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs, and Geographical Indications (SCT), members ultimately were unable to reach consensus on whether to convene a diplomatic conference to usher in the conclusion of a Design Law Treaty on international harmonisation of industrial design formalities.

The decision on whether to instigate WIPO’s highest level of meeting has consistently been pushed back, with a proposed time frame for 2017 agreed on last year. This year’s Assemblies left it to the 2017 General Assembly to continue deliberations over a verdict, now aiming to hold a diplomatic conference in 2018.

The planned accord has been negotiated for almost a decade under the WIPO SCT, with the talks slowed by two points of contention: placement of provisions on technical assistance, and the inclusion of a mandatory disclosure of origin requirement.

Meanwhile,discussions on a potential international treaty to revisit the rights of broadcasting organisations in light of sweeping technological advancements have been taking place under the auspices of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) for almost two decades.

Though a decision on a treaty to protect broadcasting organisations was not targeted at this year’s meetings, the discussions were still necessary to help set the stage for progress in 2017.

In that context, Argentina reportedly requested last week that the SCCR underscore the need to speed the negotiations along. In addition, the South American country proposed that the language of the decision from the SCCR report be amended in order to ensure that it would provide a roadmap for future discussions, including for progress on a potential broadcasting treaty. 

In the end, the SCCR was “directed to continue work on protection of broadcasting organisations,” according to WIPO’s press release, without going into further detail.

Finally, the Marrakesh Assembly convened its inaugural session to outline plans for the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, which entered into force on 30 September following the accession of the required 20 contracting parties in June. (See Bridges Weekly, 6 October 2016

The landmark treaty facilitates the production and cross-border sharing of books to enable access to education, research, and information to potentially 285 million people globally with visual impairments. The vast majority of these people live in developing nations.

Over the course of the Assemblies, Sri Lanka, Botswana and Liberia acceded to the treaty, resulting in a total of 25 countries that have joined to date. The treaty enters into force for those parties three months after ratification.

External offices set to open in Africa

The bid on behalf of the African Goup, which accounts for 55 of WIPO’s total 184 member states, for opening new WIPO external offices in Algeria and Nigeria was ultimately approved on Tuesday evening. A decision on the remaining four offices to be opened before end-2019 has not yet been reached, and an additional 18 member states globally have entered the running to be a host.

The decision has been long-anticipated, yet difficult to reach. Though it was already agreed at last year’s Assemblies that priority should be given to the African continent, there were conflicting calls from different regions where the decision only allows for three  new offices to be allocated for the 2016/2017 biennium, and an additional three for 2018/2019.

The decision for the latter was not expected to take place this year. The opening of the new external offices will be added to the already established offices in Brazil, China, Japan, Russia, and Singapore.

Amendments to the WIPO Internal Oversight Charter

In a decision adopted on Tuesday afternoon, a range of amendments to the WIPO internal oversight mechanism were agreed upon in a move towards greater institutional transparency and accountability of the UN agency’s leadership.

Last week, the Chair of the Coordination Committee announced the closing of discussions on the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigation into allegations of misconduct against the Director General.

The revised charter ensures that member states will be granted access to reports in the event of an investigation into claims of misconduct of high-level officials, allowing them to more efficiently exercise their oversight duties. The Coordination Committee’s recommendations for amending WIPO’s General Procurement Principles were cleared, opening up the UN agency’s procurement process, as well as for Protection Policy, submitting that the Chief Ethics Officer specify any cases of retaliation against a whistleblower or witness providing inputs in an investigation. The role of the Independent Advisory Oversight Committeee (IAOC) was also clarified at all stages, both ex ante and under the course of an investigation.

ICTSD reporting; “WIPO Assembly: IP-WATCH Tally of Finished and Pending Items,” IP-WATCH, 10 October 2016; “WIPO Assembly Adopts Revisions For Stronger Oversight, Protection of Whistleblowers,” IP-WATCH, 11 October 2016.

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