WIPO Industrial Design Talks Highlight Technical Assistance, Capacity Building

19 December 2012

Members of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) made some progress last week on the draft text of a treaty on industrial design formalities. However, developed and developing country members of the WIPO trademark body found themselves at odds over proposals concerning technical assistance and capacity building under the potential treaty.

According to WIPO's definition, an industrial design refers to the aesthetic aspects of an item, such as its shape and colour. Industrial designs are applied to a large array of products, ranging from medical instruments to watches and smartphones. Discussions on possible areas of convergence between industrial design law and practice have been underway at WIPO since 2009.

The twenty-eighth session of the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT) - which met from 10-14 December - was entirely devoted to industrial designs, following a WIPO General Assembly decision last October to expedite the committee's work "to advance substantially the basic proposals for a Design Law Treaty." (See Bridges Weekly, 10 October 2012)

At the previous SCT session, members had been unable to reach consensus on convening a diplomatic conference - the highest level of negotiations at WIPO - to finalise an agreement that would harmonise industrial design registration formalities at the international level, leaving the decision to future meetings. (See Bridges Weekly, 26 September 2012)

"We look forward to engaging constructively towards the conclusion of a final treaty that will benefit all users, including those in developing countries and [least developed countries, or LDCs]," Belgium said on behalf of Group B, a coalition of developed countries, last week.

However, developing countries at last week's meeting took a more cautious approach, warning that "this negotiation exercise has been based mostly on the law and practise of a few developed countries."

"It is necessary that the realities and priorities of other countries be also reflected in the working documents," Brazil added on behalf of the Development Agenda Group (DAG), a coalition of WIPO like-minded countries supporting a development-oriented perspective on IP issues.

Members butt heads over technical assistance, special and differential treatment

At the WIPO General Assembly in October, the SCT was mandated to consider including "appropriate provisions regarding technical assistance and capacity building for developing countries and LDCs in the [future treaty's] implementation." During last week's discussions, however, WIPO members could not agree on the binding nature of technical assistance provisions, while also debating two different proposals on the nature of technical assistance work under the potential treaty.

The African Group, for one, submitted a proposal with four draft articles on technical assistance and capacity building to be integrated in the future treaty. The proposal asks that WIPO provide "all the appropriate equipment and technology [...] and appropriate training to the staff" of requesting countries "for operating such equipment or technology."

The proposal also requests that WIPO and its developed member states provide financial assistance to implement the treaty for at least five years from its date of entry into force. Additionally, LDCs would receive full financial support for as long as it they are considered LDCs under United Nations guidelines.

In addition to technical assistance, the African Group proposal requests that in cases when fees are charged, "applicants from developing countries shall benefit from a fee reduction of at least fifty percent," with LDCs benefiting from a fee waiver.

However, Group B said in response that "the issue of fee reduction is not relevant or appropriate for formalities treaties, which do not operate a scheme which requires fees."

The EU for its part tabled a proposal for a supplementary resolution that would be associated with - but not part of - the treaty on industrial design law and practice. The proposed resolution requests that the treaty's contracting parties and WIPO "shall seek to provide technical assistance and capacity building, as requested, by developing countries and LDCs who have signed or ratified the treaty" while also accounting for such countries' levels of technological and economic development.

The EU said that a draft resolution tracks with standing precedents for this kind of treaty, while some provisions of the African Group proposal "go beyond the existing practice and precedents, by setting up a compulsory system of technical assistance not fully in line with demand-driven technical assistance" as outlined by the Development Agenda. The DA, which aims to mainstream development into the organisation's work, establishes that WIPO technical assistance should be "development-oriented, demand-driven and transparent," taking into account the priorities and special needs of developing countries - particularly LDCs - as well as member states' varying levels of development.

At the end of the meeting, SCT chair Imre Gonda - Deputy Head of the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office - stated that the committee had made good progress on the text and that all comments made will be reflected in a revised working document for consideration by the SCT at its next session, tentatively scheduled for next May.

ICTSD reporting; "WIPO Committee Actively Drafting Treaty On Designs; Technical Assistance Up Next," IP WATCH, 12 December 2012; Technical Assistance Shows North/South Divide In Design Treaty Talks At WIPO," IP WATCH, 13 December 2012.

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