WIPO Embraces Reform on Intellectual Property Mission

In a sense, WIPO is finally entering the new century, and responding to the growing demand for reforms, and a more balanced approach to intellectual property protection.
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Geneva: Today the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) concluded the first of a two-part review of proposals for a reform effort called the "development agenda." In doing so, WIPO and its member states have done something very positive, and surprising -- both because it signals important reforms, and because it happened with very strong support from all of the WIPO members, including the United States and members of Europe, delegations that usually take a hard line in global negotiations on intellectual property issues.

The negotiations have just broken up. This is our/my statement on the outcome:

Knowledge Ecology International Statement on WIPO Development Agenda negotiation

The agreement on dozens of WIPO reforms was broader and more substantive than had been anticipated. Some of the measures signal important changes in this controversial UN body. WIPO members agreed to "consider the preservation of the public domain within WIPO's normative processes and deepen the analysis of the implication and benefits of a rich and accessible public domain." WIPO agreed to "promote measures that will help countries deal with IP related anticompetitive practices." "Norm-setting activities shall . . . take into account different levels of development" and "take into consideration a balance between costs and benefits." WIPO adopted an expanded mandate to undertake studies to assess the economic, social and cultural impact of intellectual property practices and norm setting activities. All of this signals a new tone and approach for WIPO. In a sense, WIPO is finally entering the new century, and responding to the growing demand for reforms, and a more balanced approach to intellectual property protection.

In some areas, however, the agreement was quite limited. The cluster that included "access to knowledge," was quite thin, for example.

In June, WIPO will look at a much more ambitious set of proposals, most of which were opposed by the United States or the European Commission in 2005. The June meeting, which is expected to be much more difficult, will look at topics such as proposed treaty on access to knowledge -- a startling departure from WIPO's longstanding efforts to focus largely on expanding the scope and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

This week's negotiation went far better than almost anyone had anticipated, and many share the credit for the excellent outcome. The United States government had greatly moderated its positions and tone, and was credited by many delegates for its constructive and open approach to the negotiations on a topic for which the US is normally considered a hard-liner. Several European States, including for example the UK, Germany and Switzerland had worked hard to find ways to reaching consensus with key developing countries. Indian persistent efforts to engage the US and European negotiators was helpful and effective. Argentina and Brazil were among the countries that had pushed the hardest for the reform agenda. Chile's leadership on the issue of the public domain was key. The contributions from the Africa Group were excellent, including for example countries like South Africa. Very high marks were given to Trevor Clarke, the impressive Chair of the meeting, who hails from Barbados.

Many non-government organizations (NGOs) and experts have labored long and hard on the development agenda negotiations, not all of which were able to attend this meeting, which comes after at least seven WIPO meetings where this topic has been discussed. The contributions of the (north and south, east and west) development, consumer, free software, library and public interest groups working on technology issues were very important, and it has been a pleasure to work with all of them.

It is now time to turn our attentions to the June negotiations on the next group of proposals for the development agenda, which go much further, and present more controversy. It is also important to ensure that WIPO implements the new reforms. The first step is very important, but it is a long journey.

Here are some quotes from others who are here:

(Indian Delegate)
"As a delegation we feel it is a very significant forward movement. The meeting concluded in a spirit of compromise and consensus. This augers well for future deliberation which may lead to the finalization of a development agenda for WIPO. It is imperative that the member states maintain this spirit in the next meeting of the PCDA."

(Nigerian Delegate)
"It has been a very long and tortuous route but we have at last come out of the tunnel into the brilliant prospects of implementing the Development Agenda in WIPO."

Teresa Hackett (EIFL.NET)
"The Chairman was breath of fresh air. After two years, it feels like things are moving forward. The public domain received unexpected attention, but it gave us the opportunity to talk about why WIPO should care about a rich and accessible public domain."

Miriam M. Nisbet (American Library Association)
"Despite some confusing and conflicting statements about the public domain, it has been gratifying to hear lively debates by the WIPO delegates that reinforce the importance of the topic."

Ren Buchholz (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
"WIPO made a refreshing amount of progress this week. The excellent Chair kept things moving and Member States seemed happy to be hard at work. However, it's critical that the spirit of this session is present at the June meeting. If certain countries obstruct fair consideration of the rest of the proposals -- and there are many -- we should not be surprised if this week's success suffers."

David Tannenbaum (Yale Information Society Project)
"It is disorienting to see such a breathtakingly good outcome come out of a process that was largely closed. The language is very general and it will be important to use these principles to guide current and future treaty negotiations."

Cliffor Guimares (Brazilian Copyright Office)
"The final results of the discussions of the Annex A are positive. Group B showed some flexibility in order to reach an agreement. . The African Group devoted a lot of effort to reaching agreement on technical assistance matters. Of course, Annex A comprises only part of the negotiation. Brazil hopes that the spirit of cooperation and goodwill displayed in PCDA3 is extended to PCDA4."

Iryna Kuchma (eIFL)
"It was my first participation at PCDA and it was a pleasure for me to see the progress in the Development agenda. As an Eastern European the only pity I have is that other East European countries don't realize that Development agenda will be as beneficial for them as for the Friends of Development."

Malini Aisola (Knowledge Ecology International)
"After many days of negotiations, I am glad that WIPO Member States were able to reach decisions on Annex A proposals. This is surely a favorable first result in the development agenda process. In order for the process to be completed, it is crucial that member states rise to the challenging task of reaching consensus on the remaining proposals in the June meeting. Witnessing the cooperation and collaboration of the nations at the PCDA has been a valuable experience for me."

Eddan Katz (Yale Information Society Project)
"This is an important moment for the recognition of the role of human development in innovation. agreement on these principles will help us move forward in promoting access to knowledge as a commitment for the whole world."

(Senior member of the US delegation)
"We sensed a different atmosphere on both sides this time".

Vera Franz
"With this week's meeting we are a step closer to making WIPO fit for the 21st century. Back in 2003 WIPO had argued that a meeting on open collaborative knowledge projects would fall outside the agency's mandate. With today WIPO has put these issues firmly on its agenda, acknowledging that in a healthy and competitive knowledge economy more IP is not always better. What is next? These changes will have to impact future norm-setting at the agency."

Thiru Balasubramaniam (Knowledge Ecology International)
"The Chair, Ambassador Trevor Clarke of Barbados, steered the helm of the Development Agenda process with judicious authority rejuvenating hopes that WIPO can mainstream public interest concerns into its core mandate. Kudos to Pakistan, Chile, India, Brazil, South Africa and the United States for their spirit of cooperation and goodwill It was refreshing to hear WIPO Member States laud the value of the public domain. Crunch time begins in June where proposals detailing an elaboration of a Treaty on Access to Knowledge and a Medical R&D Treaty will be discussed."

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