Monday, September 25, 2006

WIPO General Assembly-Impressions from Day One

25 September 2006
Thiru Balasubramaniam

The WIPO General Assembly, the highest decision-making body of WIPO, runs from 25 September to 3 October 2006. Ambassador Enrique Manalo of the Philippines was elected chair of the General Assembly. The three agenda items expected to be of most substantial interest include: 1) the Development Agenda, 2) Protection of Broadcasting Organizations and 3) the Report on the Progress of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents in Respect of the Draft Substantive Patent Law Treaty and Consideration of a New Work Plan for 2007.

The first day consisted of general statements from regional groups including the Asian Group, Group B (developed countries) and the African Group in addition to individual statements from Member States. From the onset, the Chair employed a strict but judicious time limit for oral interventions with 7 to 8 minutes given to regional coordinators and 5 minutes granted to individual Member States.

Switzerland, on behalf of Group B (developed countries) noted its disappointment that discussions that on the patent agenda and the development agenda were not resolved in their respective technical committees. With respect to the development agenda, Switzerland stressed its concern that the recommendations by the Chair of the PCDA (Ambassador Rigoberto Gauto Vielman of Paraguay) were supported by an overwhelming number of countries as a workable compromise and a way forward for discussion.

What the Swiss delegate did not mention however, was that the PCDA's recommendations were summarily rejected by the Friends of Development and did not have the status of "Chair's recommendations" but instead miraculously appeared as the proposal from the Kyrgyz Republic.

Nigeria, on behalf of the African Group, called upon the General Assembly to "renew the mandate" of the Provisional Committee on Proposals Related to a WIPO Development Agenda (PCDA) "in order to continue with its work soon after the Assemblies". The African Group called for the PCDA to hold three 5 day sessions in 2007 "devoted to discussion of substantive issues to produce a balanced set of recommendations composed of both technical assistance and substantive issues such as norm setting".

With respect to the "protection of signals for broadcasting organizations", the African Group stressed that "web casting and simulcasting should not feature" in the proposed treaty. The African Group noted that the treaty "should adequately protect the public interest by the inclusion of safeguards and exceptions and limitations".

Singapore, on behalf of the ASEAN group, stated that intellectual property was not an end in itself, but rather a means of promoting economic, social and cultural development.

Finland, on behalf of the European Communities and its Member States, expressed its support for a decision calling for the convening of a Diplomatic Conference for a treaty on the protection of broadcasting organizations.

Minister Gilberto Gil (Ministry of Culture, Brazil) stated the following

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.
Argentina, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Development, expressed its support for a General Assembly resolution on the development agenda that covered the following topics:

  • norm setting
  • impact assessments
  • technology transfer
  • instutional matters and mandate
Argentina called for a renewal fo the PCDA mandate for two years till 2008. With respect to the broadcasting treaty, Argentina noted that the draft basic proposal (DBP) contained articles on limitations and exceptions and defense of competition which were important to the Friends of Development. Argentina that the exclusion of simulcasting and webcasting from the DBP was a sine qua non condition for proceding with a Diplomatic Conference.

With respect to the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights' (SCCR) work on limitations and exceptions, Chile noted that "hicimos una propuesta destinada a discutir y consensuar excepciones y limitaciones minimas, especificamente para personas discapacitadas, para bibliotecas y archivos, y con fines educacionales".

On the question of the proposed broadcasting treaty, the delegation of Chile stated "apopyamos su desarollo y consolidacion, sin embargo coincidimos con aquellos que piensan que el actual estado de la discussion no tiene madurez y claridad suficiente como para intentar su conclusion en el futuro cercano" while stressing that "[n]uestra preferencia es que sigamos trabajando este ano y el 2007 y que sea la Asamblea General del proximo ano la que tome la decision sobre el llamado a una posible conferencia diplomatica en la materia".