IP Justice Media Release
20 February 2006

Contact: Robin D. Gross, IP Justice Executive Director
Telephone: +1.415.553.6261
Email: robin@ipjustice.org

WIPO Resumes “Development Agenda” Talks
Developing Countries Continue Push for Balance at WIPO

IP Justice is in Geneva this week as the second year of talks resume to debate a “Development Agenda” at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the UN Specialized Agency that over-sees the formulation of international intellectual property law treaties.

In October 2004, the WIPO General Assembly voted to enact a “Development Agenda”, intended to reform the agency’s practices that favor large intellectual property owners at the expense of the greater public interest.

Led by Brazil and Argentina, a coalition of fourteen developing countries, “the Group of Friends of Development”, submitted a number of concrete recommendations for reform at WIPO and a re-balancing of IP rights in line with the global public interest.

In July 2005, IP Justice published a statement that was signed-on to by 138 public-interest NGO’s from all corners of the globe to support the Friends of Development (FoD) proposal for much needed reform at WIPO.

“As a United Nations organization, WIPO must re-focus its work to promote the global public interest,” said IP Justice Executive Director Robin Gross.  “Awareness is growing, particularly in developing countries, about the harm to creativity and innovation caused by excessive intellectual property rights.”

WIPO held three meetings during the spring and summer of 2005 intended to debate proposals and send recommendations to WIPO’s General Assembly in the fall 2005.  The FoD proposal and several others should have been examined in 2005, however stodgy WIPO procedures and US interventions prevented any serious debate in 2005 on proposals to reform WIPO.

Despite the overwhelming majority of support from Member Countries to make substantive recommendations to the 2005 General Assembly, two countries were able to block any substantive recommendations from going forward.   WIPO works according to a consensus model, so if any single country refuses to agree, no progress can be made.  At the summer 2005 Development Agenda meetings, the United States, supported only by Japan, refused to allow a single recommendation for reform go to the 2005 WIPO General Assembly.

Then at the 2005 WIPO General Assembly, Member Countries again voted to pursue a Development Agenda at WIPO.  The General Assembly called for holding two week-long meetings in 2006, to be followed by substantive recommendations for reform to go before the 2006 General Assembly in September.

The first 2006 Development Agenda meeting takes place 20-24 February, with subsequent discussions scheduled for 26-30 June 2006, leading up to the General Assembly in September 2006.

Besides the original 2004 FoD proposal, which has yet to receive serious attention by WIPO, a number of other countries have subsequently submitted proposals for debate in 2006 as well.  And the FoD also submitted a new proposal at the beginning of this week’s meeting to update and elaborate on their original proposal of 2004.

In January 2006 Chile submitted an important proposal that advocates for greater protection of information in the public domain.  Chile’s proposal also calls for recognition of various complementary models of dissemination of creativity, including the expansion of free software and other open licenses such as Creative Commons.  Chile’s proposal also calls for an assessment of what the appropriate levels of IP are, given the particular needs of a country, including its degree of development and institutional capacity.  Chile’s proposal recognizes the simple fact that “one size fits all” (X-Large) for IP rights would be harmful to the national interests of many developing countries who are overwhelmingly IP-importers.

Entirely missing the intent of the Development Agenda, the US submitted a new proposal on the eve of the February 2006 Development Agenda meeting, designed to increase intellectual property rights.  The US proposal would make it easier to obtain patents by providing a patent database to Member Countries.  And the US proposal would initiate a study to demonstrate the harm of counterfeiting to economic growth.   Unfortunately nothing in the US proposal addresses the real concerns developing countries face regarding the inequities of existing IP rights regimes.

Colombia also submitted a lack-luster proposal that would allow the national offices of developing countries to access databases for patent searches.

More detailed analysis of the WIPO Development Agenda from IP Justice is available here.