New IP Treaties in Focus as WIPO Annual Assemblies Kick Off

26 September 2013

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) kicked off its annual high-level meetings - known as Assemblies - in Geneva on Monday, with delegates from the UN body's 186 member states set to spend the next week tackling the organisation's activities and budget for the upcoming years, including next steps for two proposed treaties.

This year's Assemblies comes just months after the organisation signed off on a landmark treaty aimed at facilitating access to copyright protected works by visually impaired persons. (See Bridges Weekly, 4 July 2013) The "Marrakesh treaty," as it is informally known, was welcomed by most countries at this week's meetings as a momentous achievement in WIPO's recent history.

In his opening remarks, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry urged members not to forget the shared desire from Marrakesh to ensure that the "constructive cooperation" which brought the treaty to a close would "find expression in the future normative agenda of WIPO."

In this regard, Gurry highlighted a few items that could qualify as "approaching maturity." The first potential treaty would provide protection for genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, based on work that has been carried out for more than a decade by WIPO's Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC).

The IGC was created in 2000 to respond to concerns by biodiversity-rich countries and indigenous communities about the misappropriation of their genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. The committee has spent much of the last year dealing with each of these three areas in separate thematic sessions, after countries agreed at the 2012 Assemblies to extend the IGC's mandate in this area. (See Bridges Weekly, 10 October 2012)

"It is of the utmost importance to bring this work to a satisfactory conclusion," Gurry urged, adding that the process so far has been both long and difficult.

In their statements, developing countries expressed their desire to see the IGC's mandate "improved and extended" and asked that a diplomatic conference - the highest level of negotiations at WIPO - be convened within the next two years.

Developed countries have been less enthusiastic about a possible treaty in this area. The US, for instance, warned this week that considerations on a diplomatic conference are premature, given that IGC members are far from reaching an agreement on the most fundamental aspects of the texts under discussion. The EU, for its part, stressed that any international instrument in this area should be "non-binding and flexible."

The second proposed treaty would see to the creation of more simplified and accessible procedures for obtaining protection for industrial designs. While several countries have welcomed the idea of a diplomatic conference for adopting this proposed treaty, a number of developing countries have argued that the pact must include a provision that specifically addresses technical assistance and capacity building.

In its intervention earlier this week, India recommended that WIPO include technology transfer as "part of its norm-setting agenda."

"While states are mandated to protect intellectual property, transfer of technology at the industrial level is largely ungoverned," India explained. "It is therefore desirable to have a norm-setting regime on technology transfer which will provide some structure and enable better governance of technology transfer between parties."

In addition to future norm-setting activities, the approval of the organisation's annual budget is an outstanding issue that delegates will need to resolve in the coming days. Discussions will focus on procedures for establishing new WIPO external offices, as well as on the definition of "development expenditure," which determines how much of the organisation's budget is directed towards development activities.

Innovation in focus at new WIPO Forum

Finally, a WIPO Forum with "Game-Changing Innovators" was held for the first time during this year's Assemblies, in the context of the organisation's efforts aiming at raising awareness about the importance of innovation. During the forum, four world-renowned innovators from different fields shared their experiences with country delegations.

In response to the forum, developing country members of the Development Agenda Group stressed that while such parallel events were important, "they should not affect the substantive discussions among member states unless there is a decision on this subject."

A number of NGOs have expressed concerns that the forum did not "feature the significant issues of users (e.g. patients, consumers, visually impaired, students), particularly the challenges of access that prevail in the developing world."

For their part, developed countries welcomed the event as a "first step towards a more comprehensive approach to industry within the WIPO framework."

ICTSD reporting.

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