Changing Intellectual Property Landscape Underscored as WIPO Assemblies Open

5 October 2017

The fifty-seventh series of the annual World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Assemblies kicked off this week at the UN agency’s Geneva headquarters from 2-11 October. The 10-day meetings will give WIPO delegations the opportunity to take stock of progress and chart a future path for the organisation’s work.

Remarks by WIPO director general

In his opening remarks, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry pointed to the accelerating rate of innovation as a force decisive in shaping future policy directions for the organisation.

Innovation “lies at the heart of the mission of intellectual property,” said Gurry. “Innovation has become a central element of the economic and industrial strategies of a wide spectrum of countries, not just the most advanced technologically.”

Referring to WIPO’s mandate, he further added that innovation’s “fundamental importance has been recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in SDG 9. As a capacity and a strategy that applies to all sectors of the economy and society (…) innovation provides an opportunity for the Organization to contribute to all the SDGs,” he added.

Dwelling on the fundamental technological changes of recent decades, Gurry noted “the rapidly developing area of big data, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence” and their implications and multifaceted dimensions, “many of which lie well beyond the focus of intellectual property.”

With respect to the intellectual property system and how it is performing in this area, he concluded by stating that many questions remain open and that “our knowledge base is only just developing.”

IGC work programme

Delegates are expected to discuss whether to extend the mandate of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), tasked with negotiating the text for an international legal instrument(s) to protect traditional knowledge (TK), traditional cultural expressions (TCEs), and genetic resources. (see Bridges Weekly, 22 June 2017)

Member states have so far disagreed on the level of advancement of discussions, where a proposal tabled by the African Group in August supports the convening of a diplomatic conference as early as 2019 to adopt a binding treaty on genetic resources, while others have underlined that certain elements, including the scope and nature of such an instrument, remain to be clarified.

The EU proposal released on 29 September outlines a vision for the IGC work programme that is focused on closing divisions on such basic principles, emphasising that the “Committee will work to reach overall agreement on all aspects of the mandate on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Design Law Treaty

WIPO delegates will also make the highly anticipated decision on whether to convene a high-level negotiation for the adoption of a Design Law Treaty towards the end of the first half of 2018.

Within the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT), disagreement has persisted over whether to include an article granting a contracting party the right to require that an application contain a disclosure of the origin of the TCEs, TK, or genetic resources used in the industrial design.

Delegations have also debated whether and in what form to include a provision on technical assistance and capacity building, urging WIPO to expedite the creation of a digital library system for registered designs for information exchange by contracting parties. Whether to establish a fee reduction system for design creators based in developing or least developed countries is also a topic of deliberation.

Certain delegations believe that these outstanding issues can be resolved in the context of a diplomatic conference, while others say they must be tackled beforehand. The two sessions of the SCT held in 2017 maintained the item on the agenda, but resolved to defer the ultimate decision to this year’s Assemblies as agreed by the General Assembly in October 2016. (see Bridges Weekly, 13 October 2016)

Broadcasting Treaty

The WIPO General Assembly is further expected to provide guidance for future action to the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), and direct the Committee to continue its work as outlined in the report on its progress produced by the Secretariat in August.

The Committee seeks to arrive at a possible treaty to protect broadcasting organisations in light of technological advancements. It also aims to address the issue of limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries and archives, and for education and persons with disabilities other than visual impairment.

In addition, the SCCR has since its 31st session included on its agenda the issue of copyright related to the digital environment, supported by the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC) and, more recently, the issue of resale right, raised by Senegal and Congo.

Delegates were ultimately unable to find consensus on recommendations to the General Assembly in the 34th and latest session of the Committee held in May. Some countries are requesting a binding international instrument on exceptions and limitations, but there are issues around the protection, and whether the treaty should cover Internet-enabled broadcasting or keep to traditional forms.

ICTSD reporting; “Guide To This Week’s Annual WIPO General Assemblies,” IP-WATCH, 01 October 2017; “WIPO General Assembly Opens; Delegates In Starting Block To Discuss Budget, Normative Work,” IP-WATCH, 02 October 2017; “Inside Views: WIPO, Pharma Join Forces To Set Up Database For Medicine Procurers,” IP-WATCH, 03 October 2017.

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