WIPO High-level Forum Highlights Opportunities and Challenges for LDCs

29 July 2009

A high-level forum on intellectual property for least developed countries (LDCs) was held at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on 23 and 24 July. During the two-day meeting, ministers and senior officials exchanged views on obstacles and possible solutions facing the greater use of IP for wealth creation and development in LDCs.

In this context, ministers from Bangladesh, Benin, Cambodia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Maldives, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda shared their individual country experiences and perspectives on the challenges facing their countries in this area. Many emphasised the need to protect the rich traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resource that abound in LDCs.

In a Ministerial Declaration adopted at the end of the meeting, LDCs reaffirmed their commitment to the integration of intellectual property (IP) and innovation strategies in their national development planning. The countries urged WIPO to intensify its capacity-building assistance and appealed to development partners to provide more funds for LDC-specific projects. The declaration also called on WIPO to provide assistance in protecting traditional cultural expressions, to help in branding exportable products from LDCs that can be protected by geographical indications or trademarks, and to assist in promoting public-private partnerships and the commercialisation of research products from LDC universities.

The meeting also saw the launch of WIPO's new Access to Research for Development and Innovation (aRDi) initiative, a public-private partnership programme with leading science and technology publishing companies. It aims to provide free access to selected online scientific and technical journals to IP offices, universities and research institutes in 50 least developed countries, and to allow industrial property offices in 57 developing countries to gain low-cost access to these journals.

The initiative is being implemented by WIPO in partnership with a number of prominent science and technology publishers including the American Institute of Physics, Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons, National Academy of Sciences, Oxford University Press and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Publications will be available at least for the time span of the UN's Millennium Development Goals - until 2015.

"Access to the knowledge contained in scientific and technical literature is critical to the innovation process," WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry said at the programme's launch.

The aRDi initiative is in keeping with the increased priority WIPO, under the new Director General, has given to constructing a "global knowledge infrastructure" to provide developing countries with greater access to databases of technological and scientific information. One of the recommendations of the WIPO Development Agenda requested that the organisation "develop agreements with research institutions and with private enterprises with a view to facilitating the national offices of developing countries, especially LDCs, as well as their regional and sub-regional intellectual property organisations to access specialised databases for the purposes of patent searches."

In a departure from WIPO's growing openness to civil society participation, nongovernmental observers were not invited to participate in the forum. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which served as the United National focal point for past UN LDCs conferences, was also absent from the programme. A week earlier, it had issued the 2009 LDCs Report.

Observers also pointed out that the Ministerial Declaration that emerged from the meeting makes no reference to exceptions, limitations, or flexibilities in IP rights. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the importance of such flexibilities for developing countries in general, and LDCs in particular, as such measures can help poorer countries ensure that intellectual property rights are supportive of their public policy objectives in areas such as access to medicines, access to knowledge and technology transfer.

ICTSD reporting; "LDCs Commit To Use IP for Development At WIPO; Use Of Exceptions, Flexibilities Omitted," IP-WATCH, 27 July 2009.

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