A few Important Stories That Are Not News (in the US)

A blog on the news that is not reported in the US could be much longer. This is only about a few items involving global intellectual property negotiations.

The World Intellectual Property Organization
Beginning in 2004, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the specialized UN agency dealing with patents, copyrights and other types of intellectual property rights, underwent a huge upheaval. Once almost entirely a tool of special interests in the pharmaceutical, entertainment and publishing industries, WIPO is emerging as forum for real debates over global intellectual property policy. Proposals for ill conceived treaties on patent harmonization and the protection of broadcasting organizations were blocked, the first by developing countries, and the second by a coalition of developing countries, civil society NGOs, and innovative businesses.

In 2007, WIPO adopted a far reaching and widely praised "Development Agenda," with 45 recommendations that redefined and expanded the agency mission to include a more balanced and modern approach to both access and the support of innovation and creativity.

Earlier this year the WIPO DG was forced to agree to resign by the fall, over misconduct. A tentative election for a successor was recently held, and the new WIPO DG will be Francis Gurry from Australia, a highly regarded expert who now heads the WIPO patent section.

The WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), having rejected a new treaty that would have given broadcasting and webcasting organizations a property right in content they merely transmit, is now redefining its mission. First up is an agenda item involving limitations and exceptions to copyrights, including a possible treaty for the visually impaired, to make it easier to publish materials across border that are accessible to the global blind community.

This week in Geneva the WIPO Standing Committee on Patents (SCP) is holding its first meeting in two years, in an attempt to create a new work program on patents. The meeting is very important. Right now the SCP is considering agenda items in four areas, including:

1) Information on patents (Patent information). This would include "dissemination of patent information (including the registration of licenses) and a "database on search and examination reports."

2) Exceptions and limitations which would include exceptions from patentable subject matter, limitations to the rights, research exemption and compulsory licenses.

3) Patents and standards.

4) Client-attorney privilege.

Of these, items 2 and 3 are particularly important. The meeting continues until Friday.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization has been engaged in intense negotiations over public health, innovation and intellectual property since 2003, and in May adopted a widely praised 48 page documentt that set out a program through 2015 dealing with innovation and access (i+a) for medical technologies. The new WHO approach will include creative ways of dealing with the support of both innovation and access, including importantly an emphasis on "the de-linkage of the costs of research and development and the price of health products." Among the controversial initiatives backed by the new WHO plan are the use of prizes to stimulate R&D, patent pools to obtain licenses that enable generic competition in developing countries, and discussions on a new biomedical R&D treaty.

The WHO is setting up a new task force to address certain elements of the the plan, and will consider proposals from member states, including these new proposals from Barbados and Bolivia to create several prize funds to support innovation in areas such as the development of new diagnostic tests for TB, or new priority medicines and vaccines (including antibiotics).

Japan, the US and the European Union are holding secret negotiations on a new intellectual property right enforcement treaty, misleadingly named the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. This negotiation is making headlines in Canada and is reported in Europe, but not by the US newspapers and wire services. We can't even get from the USTR a copy of the agenda of the secret meetings, or names of the negotiators.