WIPO assemblies endorse conference on patents and public policy challenges, including climate change

3 October 2008

The latest annual meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) General Assemblies endorsed the work programmes of its bodies -- including a plan for the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP) to convene a conference on the implications of patents on certain areas of public policy, such as health, the environment, climate change and food security.
Meeting from 22-30 September, the General Assemblies ended on a positive and consensual note after having witnessed much controversy and polarisation in recent years. The WIPO member states welcomed the appointment of a new Director-General, Australian Francis Gurry (see Bridges Weekly, 25 September 2008, http://ictsd.net/i/news/bridgesweekly/29785/), and appeared keen to steer the organisation towards a fresh start.
During the meeting, members of WIPO reviewed the activities of the organisations in a number of key areas endorsing, in most cases, the recommendations adopted by WIPO bodies during the year. The implementation of the WIPO Development Agenda emerged as a key priority in the statements by most delegations, in particular developing countries, which highlighted the need to allocate the necessary resources for this endeavour and integrate the development dimension in all aspects of the organisation's work (see Bridges Weekly, 2 October 2008, http://ictsd.net/i/news/bridgesweekly/30166/).
IGC to speed up work through inter-sessional mechanisms?
On genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore, the General Assembly noted the work under the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) on the analysis of gaps in the protection available for traditional cultural expressions/expressions of folklore and for traditional knowledge. With a view to accelerating the Committee's work, the October 2008 session of the IGC will consider establishing inter-sessional mechanisms. Member states also welcomed the further successful implementation of the WIPO Voluntary Fund for Indigenous and Local Communities, noting that it had significantly enhanced the depth and diversity of representation in the IGC process.
Developing countries, in particular the African Group, reaffirmed their long-standing demand for an international binding instrument to protect genetic resources, traditional knowledge and expressions of folklore, making reference to regional instruments recently concluded in Africa with this objective.
Patent committee to consider public policy implications
In the area of patents, member states welcomed the revival of discussions within the SCP. The Committee had met from 23-26 June to discuss how to continue its work following a three-year break. Developed and developing countries had been in a stand-off in particular as to how the SCP should continue its work with regards to the Substantive Patent Law Treaty (SPLT), a treaty that would expand the minimum standards agreed in the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). At the June meeting, they managed to agree on a broad-based work programme (see Bridges Weekly, 2 July 2008, http://ictsd.net/i/news/bridgesweekly/12246/), which the WIPO Assemblies now endorsed.
Delegates to the WIPO Assemblies also endorsed the recommendation to convene in 2009 a conference on issues relating to the implications of patents on certain areas of public policy, such as health, the environment, climate change and food security. The conference would be convened in April in the framework of the SCP and, where relevant, would work in conjunction with other WIPO bodies. The proposal for such a conference was welcomed by Member States and developing countries in particular.   

In August 2008, WIPO organised a related conference entitled the Life Sciences Symposium on Patent Landscaping and Transfer of Technology under Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA). The meeting examined the use of patent information tools in identifying technological developments of relevance to the environment and in facilitating the transfer of technologies within the context of MEAs.

Ultimately, the harmony prevailing in this year's Assemblies may not reflect a narrowing gap in substantive differences in many policy areas so much as it might indicate a greater maturity in the deliberations of the organisation and a growing realisation that the priorities and views of all countries need to be addressed, as is reflected in the new work programme of the SCP.
In any case, said a delegate of a developing country, "WIPO's new leadership understands that the organisation can no longer operate in isolation from the outside world and needs to engage more significantly with policy challenges it has shied away from in past years."
For more information on the Life Sciences Symposium on Patent Landscaping and Transfer of Technology under Multilateral Environmental Agreements, see http://www.wipo.int/meetings/en/2008/lifesciences/ip_lss2_ge/
ICTSD reporting; "Optimism reigns as WIPO Assemblies close, Gurry takes office," IP WATCH, 30 September, 2008; "WIPO Assemblies conclude," WIPO PRESS RELEASE, 1 October, 2008.

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