WIPO Committee Sees Movement on Development Agenda Implementation

6 May 2009

Discussions on the implementation of the WIPO Development Agenda (DA) concluded on a positive note last week as delegates succeeded in adopting a new thematic approach to implementing proposed activities that are meant to integrate development concerns into the organisation's work. The third session of the Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP), held from 27 April to 1 May and chaired by Ambassador Trevor Clarke, from Barbados, was marked by greater momentum than the previous two sessions of the Committee.

At the outset of the meeting, many developing countries expressed their concern over the slow pace of implementation of the DA.  The Director General of WIPO, Mr. Francis Gurry reiterated his commitment to the successful implementation of the WIPO DA, stating the DA is a "wonderful opportunity for WIPO to integrate development activities into the posture of the organisation," and assured that all sectors of WIPO would contribute to ensuring that the recommendations are mainstreamed into the organisation's activities.

The WIPO Development Agenda was an initiative launched by developing countries in 2004 to integrate the development dimension into all of WIPO s activities in accordance with its status as a UN agency. After two years of intense discussions, the WIPO General Assembly adopted 45 recommendations in 2007 to achieve this goal and addressing work of the organisation in areas ranging from norm setting, to technical assistance and including technology transfer and access to knowledge.

A major feature of the discussions was the new thematic project approach that was proposed by the Secretariat with the aim of helping to prevent inefficiencies and avoid the duplication of activities that might be required for multiple recommendations. Each project has a project manager who is to report to the CDIP on the implementation of the project. The themes for the projects included ones such as "IP and Public Domain," "IP and Competition," "Technology Transfer," "Patent Information," "Open Collaborative Projects" and "IP and the Brain Drain."

While there was support for this new methodology, several delegations expressed some hesitation over the approach. Nigeria welcomed the methodology but cautioned that it should be accompanied with an effective assessment and monitoring mechanism to ensure that recommendations are not ‘lost' under this approach. Brazil also added that the thematic approach requires guidelines to ensure that the implementation of each recommendation is a member-driven process and that no recommendation is overlooked. 

Many countries, particularly developing countries, underlined that projects should not be seen as an end in themselves and that any modifications to the projects that countries might like to should be reflected in the project document. Egypt emphasised that if a project is completed, this does not mean that the recommendation is concluded.

Ultimately, delegates at the meeting agreed to proceed on the basis of set guidelines to ensure a balanced approach in the implementation of recommendations. These guidelines direct members to first discuss each recommendation and agree on the activities for implementation, then to bring together, where possible, under a single theme recommendations that deal with similar or identical subjects, and to structure the implementation in the form of projects and other activities, as appropriate.

In this context, there was ‘broad agreement' on the activities for implementing thematic projects related to Public Domain and Competition Policy and IP, Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) and the Digital Divide.

Delegates agreed that the implementation of these projects would begin in January 2010, with the understanding that agreed modifications would be incorporated to reflect the changes requested by the Committee.

On the issue of the public domain, India, Brazil and Egypt expressed concern that the term ‘public domain' is still rather vague and that there has not yet been any international consensus towards a precise definition of the term.  Pakistan opined that the public domain is not only important for access to knowledge but for fostering creativity and innovation. There was also concern echoed by these countries about the activities in relation to the public domain and traditional knowledge.

Also with regard to the public domain, Brazil informed the secretariat of a submission it had made to another WIPO body on Amazonian biodiversity names that it considers public domain or common communal heritage. 

Brazil suggested the secretariat consider this list with the "possibility of developing a database of names related biodiversity," adding that such a process could serve as a "concrete activity that can be implemented toward the preservation of the public domain."  The intervention by Brazil stemmed from the country's concern that biodiversity names specific to the Amazon region are increasingly being misappropriated by third countries.

But the US interjected that the process of Brazil's submission was objectionable under WIPO's rules of procedure, which require proposals to be submitted 30 days prior to the meeting.  The DG interjected, after a lively exchange between the two countries, offering that it was the task of the secretariat to implement the requests of the member states on the development agenda and that all proposed projects are subject to the approval, modification and elaboration by member states. Ultimately, discussions on the Brazilian proposal reflected some discomfort about the effective ability of countries to introduce their own suggested activities for the implementation of the recommendations. 

Stalemate on coordination mechanism for the implementation of the WIPO DA

There was also substantial discussion on potential coordination mechanisms and modalities for monitoring, assessing and reporting on the implementation of the WIPO DA recommendations. Proposals on this issue were submitted by Pakistan, the African group, and the Latin American and Caribbean Group. The Pakistan proposal, which attracted the most support, proposed that chairs of WIPO committees report to the annual General Assemblies on how their bodies have implemented the Development Agenda recommendations. The African group proposal, which included the creation of a working group, raised concerns for some members who thought that the establishment of a new body would be cumbersome.

Members were divided as to the likelihood of reaching an agreement on this issue in this session and therefore decided that interested member states should submit their proposals to the secretariat by the end of June.  These submissions, along with the proposals made in this session of the committee, would then be compiled by the secretariat and presented at the fourth session of the CDIP for further discussion on the subject. 

On the issue of a roster of consultants emanating from Recommendation 6 (CDIP3/2), there was a request for the methods of selection for the experts to be disclosed. Bangladesh said that there was a need to include those intellectual property experts who have previously worked with LDCs. Brazil in turn stressed the need for balance and transparency in the process, adding that the roster should be constantly updated and perhaps posted on the WIPO website. 

NGOs voice their concerns

Over the course of the week, non-governmental organisations voiced their concerns and comments over the proposed new thematic methodology.  There was general concern among the NGOs over the need to ensure that the project proposals reflect the essence of the recommendations. Sanjeeta Shashikant, from the NGO Third World Network, emphasised that the development agenda should reflect a "change in culture" at WIPO "The hard work by member states should not be reduced to various projects," Shashikant said. The International Federation of Libraries Association (EFLA) warned that past WIPO activities were being retrofitted by adding the term ‘development' to the title but in fact "are activities which were in place before the development agenda." 

The next meeting of the CDIP is scheduled for 16-20 November 2009.

ICTSD reporting; "WIPO members move ahead on Development Agenda implementation," IP-WATCH, 4 May 2009.

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