WIPO Evaluates Its Role in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

10 November 2016

Members of the UN’s intellectual property agency debated last week a report which reviewed its progress in implementing a series of development-related recommendations, along with how the organisation will support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted just over a year ago.

The 18th Session of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) was held from 31 October-4 November at the UN agency’s Geneva headquarters, with members also agreeing on a coming work programme.

Independent Review and related outstanding issues

The CDIP was established in 2008 to oversee the implementation of the 45 Development Agenda recommendations adopted the previous year, and to maximise the contribution of the intellectual property system towards advancing development.

The 45 adopted Development Agenda recommendations encompass a range of issue areas, including technology transfer; technical assistance and capacity building; norm-setting, flexibilities, and public policy; as well as impact evaluation and institutional governance concerns.

At last week’s meeting, members examined an independent report issued last August which constituted a review on WIPO’s progress in the implementation of its Development Agenda recommendations from 2008 to 2015.

This report is known as the “Independent Review of the Implementation of the 2007 Development Agenda Recommendations.”  Before the report was even drafted, the report had already been the subject of protracted negotiations on the precise terms of reference that evaluators would follow, with member states finally agreeing to these in 2014.

The Review was conducted by a team comprising V.K. Gupta as the lead evaluator, P. Roffe as the intellectual property and development expert, and G.H. Sibanda as the intellectual property and technical assistance expert. (Editor’s note: Roffe is a senior associate at ICTSD, the publisher of Bridges)

Sources say that the report was generally well received by member states, who noted the adherence to the terms of reference and its general objectivity, among others.  The Committee took note of the report and acknowledged that the recommendations made by the experts addressed different actors involved in the implementation, namely member states, the CDIP, and the secretariat.

The CDIP agreed to continue considering the independent review’s recommendations. They have also committed to providing the WIPO secretariat with written comments on the review’s recommendations by the end of February, and have asked the secretariat to provide a report on the subject at its next session.

Sustainable Development Goals

A central discussion at last week’s meeting involved identifying which aspects of WIPO’s work are related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 high-reaching UN goals which were adopted last September and came into force on 1 January 2016, touching upon areas such as eradicating poverty, protecting the environment, and better safeguarding human rights.

The subject reportedly sparked debate among WIPO members, as they discussed whether some or all of the SDGs are relevant to the UN intellectual property agency’s work. Some developed countries argued that only a few select goals apply, while others maintained the applicability of all goals.

Brazil was a strong proponent of the view that the domain of intellectual property permeates all SDGs, since it increasingly affects a wide range of aspects in society, advocating that none of the goals can be excluded on a theoretical basis.

Turkey, speaking on behalf of “Group B” of developed countries, reportedly pointed out the economic benefits intrinsically afforded by intellectual property rights, producing incentives for creativity and innovation as an engine for economic growth. However, the Turkish delegate also cautioned against an excessively comprehensive scope at the risk of compromising actionable results, and underlined that processes are still underway for fine-tuning indicators to measure SDG implementation, making decision-making difficult at this early stage.

To bridge the gap between the positions, CDIP Chair Ambassador Luis Enrique Chávez of Peru reportedly recalled attention to concrete, practical actions, cautioning member states to avoid falling into overly theoretical discussion. He also underlined that the 2030 Agenda clearly states that the responsibility for SDG implementation lies first and foremost on each state, a sentiment that was also raised by certain member states, including Group B.

Earlier discussions along these lines had taken place in WIPO since the SDGs were first adopted in September 2015. A document released at the 16th Session of the CDIP in November 2015 outlined an initial list of SDGs relevant to WIPO work.

In particular, Goal 9, relating to industry, innovation, and infrastructure, and Goal 17, dealing with partnerships for the goals, were identified as directly linked to WIPO activities. These two goals were reportedly highlighted by the European Union and the Group of Central European and Baltic States at last week’s meeting.

Ultimately, members agreed that the secretariat will present an annual report to the CDIP at its first session of the year, outlining WIPO’s contribution to the implementation of the SDGs. The scope of the report will cover the activities carried out by the organisation both individually and as a component of the UN system, including the assistance provided by WIPO to member states upon their request.

The role of WIPO in striving towards the SDGs is also set to be addressed in future sessions, particularly the request on behalf of Brazil with the support of a number of member states, including the African Group, the Asia and Pacific Group, China, Indonesia, South Africa, India, Ecuador, Tunisia, and the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) to establish a standing agenda item devoted to the implementation of SDGs in the Committee.

Technology transfer

Technology transfer was another subject addressed by members last week. The CDIP reportedly approved advancing on various items raised in a joint proposal by the delegations of the US, Australia, and Canada, leaving only one of the six items outstanding for discussion at the next session.

The five approved items pertain to channels for WIPO activity on technology transfer, including maintaining a webpage dedicated to the issue, providing a roadmap for raising awareness on WIPO resources already in place, and engaging on technology transfer in international forums. Only item 5 was not agreed on, proposing that WIPO pursue a market-based approach to facilitate innovation.

A separate proposal by South Africa for a project on technology transfer and intellectual property management drew support at the CDIP meeting, and will be considered further at the next session based on an updated version of the document.

IP and development conference in review

The CDIP also took note of the report on the International Conference on Intellectual Property and Development that took place in April, mapping WIPO activities related to technology transfer. (See Bridges Weekly, 22 April 2016)

Delegations reportedly appreciated the quality of the substance of the conference, which was a landmark event for the UN agency.

Some delegations expressed their interest to see this type of conference to be replicated in the future, with the African Group reportedly suggesting that this be held biennially. The Group pledged to prepare written proposals in time for the next session of the Committee.

The CDIP resolved to close the External Review of the WIPO Technical Assistance in the Area of Cooperation for Development, first published in 2011. The Spanish proposal, composed of six measures to be followed by WIPO in its technical assistance and intended to break the stalemate brought on by the recommendations in the External Review, was revised with discussions opened for next six sessions of the CDIP, at the end of which the CDIP is set to discuss the final implementation of the proposal.

ICTSD reporting; “WIPO Members Divided On IP Agency’s Role In Implementation Of UN Sustainable Development Goals,” IP-WATCH, 2 November 2016; : WIPO Committee Debates SDGs, Review Of Development Agenda Recommendations,” IP-WATCH, 1 November 2016; “WIPO Development Committee Finds Compromise On Future Work,” IP-WATCH, 7 November 2016; “WIPO Committee Agrees To Focus Work To Improve WIPO Technical Assistance,” IP-WATCH, 4 November 2016.

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