WIPO Chief Calls for Rules-based IP System as Assemblies Kick Off

3 October 2012

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) launched its annual high level meetings - otherwise known as Assemblies - on Monday, against the backdrop of a changing innovation landscape and calls for improved intellectual property (IP) rules to provide an even playing field in the troubled world economy.

Policymakers from WIPO's 185 member states are expected to address a range of issues during the 1-9 October talks, including copyright exceptions, traditional knowledge, and a possible industrial design treaty.

Rules key to avoiding "technological protectionism," Gurry says

The increasing importance of innovation in achieving economic growth, as well as a greater international approach to patenting and the "shift in the geography of economic and technological production" towards new markets are three "game changers" that have deeply transformed the global IP environment over the last two decades, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry told the audience in his opening address.

According to Gurry, the increased level of investment in research and development, as well as the adoption of innovation-enhancing strategies by all major economies, reflect an emerging consensus "that innovation is the foundation of economic success."

In this context, intellectual property plays a crucial role, given that "IP captures the economic value of innovation." However, the increased importance of IP as an innovation driver also sets it up "as a battlefield for intense competition," giving rise to the so-called "patent wars" - particularly in the sector of information and communication technologies.

This new trend "reinforces the need for a rules-based international system," he urged.

"Rules should provide an even playing field and should save us from the temptation to lapse into forms of technological protectionism," Gurry said.

This increasingly competitive environment also requires a renewed effort from the UN agency in its capacity building activities, the WIPO chief urged. In fact, while the changing innovation landscape "has created new opportunities for some, for others the new environment is particularly challenging, especially at the speed with which it is evolving."

WIPO members aim for decisions on copyright exceptions, industrial designs, traditional knowledge

Against this background, WIPO member states will be asked to decide on a wide range of issues during the nine-day talks, particularly in the area of norm-setting.

With regards to copyright, the Assemblies could potentially endorse a roadmap issued by WIPO's copyright body earlier this year towards the conclusion of a legal instrument on copyright exceptions and limitations for the visually impaired and reading disabled (See Bridges Weekly, 25 July 2012). In this regard, Ambassador Uglješa Zvekić from Serbia, who is chairing this year's Assemblies, expressed his "earnest hope" that an international legal instrument "will be adopted next year."

Other notable issues on the Assemblies' agenda include decisions on whether and when to convene a diplomatic conference for adopting a new treaty on industrial design law formalities, a matter on which the WIPO trademarks body was unable to agree on last month (See Bridges Weekly, 26 September 2012).

Finally, delegates will discuss how to proceed in their efforts towards adopting one or more legal instruments for the protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, a subject on which - according to the Director General - "progress has been made over the past two years, but there is still some distance to travel." (See Bridges Weekly, 22 February 2012, 25 April 2012, and 18 July 2012, respectively)

Further analysis of the discussions at the WIPO Assemblies will be featured in next week's edition of Bridges.

ICTSD reporting; "Intellectual property rules must provide even playing field to support innovation," UN NEWS, 1 October 2012; "WIPO 2012 Assembly Opens With Talk Of More Treaties," IP WATCH, 2 October 2012.

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