25 September 2006
Contact: Robin Gross, IP Justice Executive Director

IP Justice at 42nd Annual WIPO General Assembly

IP Justice is in Geneva this week as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) kicks off its 42nd Annual General Assembly and nations’ top ministers meet to decide the fate of a number of key issues.

A good deal of ‘horse-trading’ is expected to take place between Member States at the 2006 WIPO General Assembly, which takes place from 25 September – 3 October in Geneva at WIPO headquarters.

Broadcasting Treaty Not Ready for Primetime

The WIPO General Assembly will decide whether to accept the controversial recommendation from the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Copyrights and Related Rights (SCCR) to press forward with a treaty for broadcasting companies. At the conclusion of the 15th SCCR session on 13 September 2006, SCCR Chairman Leides asked for “silent approval” of his recommendation after a number of countries including India, the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina expressed disagreement with moving forward based on his proposal.

Since almost none of the substantive issues have been agreed upon by Member States, including fundamental questions like, “should the treaty take an ‘IP-rights’ approach or a ‘signal-theft’ approach?”, many do not expect the GA will accept the SCCR Chairman’s rush for a diplomatic conference next year.

The Chair’s draft also continues to regulate Internet transmissions of programming, something proponents of the treaty have a hard time admitting in public. What part of “by any means, including … over computer networks” do they not understand? (Art 9 & 14). Unsurprisingly, the US continues to advocate for a Broadcast Treaty that would also give webcasters new IP rights.

There is just too much preliminary negotiation to be done — of crucial, fundamental issues before the Broadcast Treaty can move to a diplomatic conference for final treaty drafting.

Development Agenda Stalled for 2nd Time

Another key issue before the 2006 GA is the future of the WIPO Development Agenda. The 2004 effort to reform WIPO’s norms and practices to be more in-line with the public interest stalled again this year after the United States refused to agree with any of the recommendations put forward by the Group of Friends of Development.

After the Chairman tried to put forward recommendations supported by the United States as the group consensus in June, Brazil and a number of other countries objected and claimed they had been double-crossed. The GA must now decide what to do with the Development Agenda: Whether to continue it? In which venue? With what outcome?

Hopefully the WIPO General Assembly will be able to exert some influence on the Development Agenda process and move forward with that initiative despite the early set-backs.

Brazil’s Gilberto Gil at WIPO

Renowned international musician and Brazilian Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil spoke before the WIPO General Assembly on 25 September 2006. Minister Gil told the WIPO diplomats:

“We are living a historical moment when, more than ever, intellectual property deserves to be the object of a debate that corresponds to the breadth and complexity that this subject has acquired. We have seen that a number of sectors of the international community has become increasingly aware of the importance of discussing intellectual property in all its aspects, particularly its effects on social and economic development, as illustrated by the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health.

It is clear to us that development will only be ensured if there is a balance between intellectual property rights and obligations and the public interest, as had been highlighted by the Ambassador of Argentina, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Development. If such balance is lost we will violate the nature of knowledge itself: we should never forget Thomas Jefferson’s words, according to which there would not be any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property than ideas, whose sharing does not necessarily harm anyone….

The Brazilian Government is concerned with the fact that the Basic Proposal for a Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations, approved by the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, remains the object of disagreements and had not been able to please the majority of Members, both developed and developing.

Should this Assembly confirm the convening of a Diplomatic Conference with a view to finalizing the Treaty, we must be aware that many questions remain to be solved after several years of hard work on the subject, shedding doubt on the very opportunity of such a negotiating exercise.

The Brazilian Government calls for the Assembly to hold reasonable and comprehensive discussions on this subject. If the Diplomatic Conference is ultimately confirmed by this Assembly, notwithstanding many pending issues, we will be consciously assuming the risk of another failure at WIPO, repeating the outcome of the Diplomatic of the year 2000, meant to approve a new audiovisual treaty.

At the international level, many different organizations are already engaged in assessing the impacts of intellectual property. The UN, UNESCO, WTO, WHO, CBD, UNCTAD and many others have been contributing to the debate on intellectual property and development.”

  • See related interview with Mr. Gilberto Gil on WIPO in “IP-Watch: Inside Views”

Other Issues: Patents Harmonization

Other important issues for this year’s General Assembly are efforts to standardize patent laws and new rights regarding bio-diversity and traditional knowledge. Check back at www.ipjustice.org for more information.