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WIPO Committee on Development and Intellectual Property: Third meeting

6 May, 2009
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This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Das WIPO-Komitee für Entwicklung und Geistiges Eigentum: das dritte T...


The central issues in the third meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) seemed to be the creation of centralized databases to collect traditional cultural expressions, traditional knowledge, genetic material and public domain material - and to close the digital divide between (post-)industrialized nations and economies in transition, developing countries (DCs) and the least developed countries (LDCs).

Because Public Domain (PD) is decidedly different in different countries, it was proposed that a study on what does PD entail in different countries be undertaken by WIPO. From this study, a database should be created for the use of different actors that need to know what actually belongs to PD. Another central concern expressed by DCs and LDCs during the meeting was that PD should not only be mapped and preserved, but also enriched when possible. On the other hand, DCs and LDCs were worried that traditional cultural expressions, traditional knowledge and genetic material would be presumed to automatically belong to PD. Although direct concerns were not mentioned with all three areas, it was apparent that with the first, the worry was the westernization of traditional music, texts, behavior patterns etc. and with the second, that traditional knowledge about herbs and medicines as well as treatments would be enclosed by western multinational corporations without benefit to the local tribes and people who actually found them (CDIP/3/3, Recommendation 20)

A clear tension between (post-) industrialized countries and DCs, LDCs and economies in transition was appearant. The latter often promoted to each other innovative and situational suggestions taking multiple views into account. The industrialized countries' representatives, more often than not, attempted to preserve the status quo, although as exceptions to this rule Japan and the Republic of South Korea must be mentioned. Japan had innovative ideas on E-SPEED database from which the member states, their patent and registering officials and stakeholders could observe various kinds of cases and how Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in different countries are handled (CDIP/3/8). Republic of Korea suggested doing a study in Fair Trade practices in different market areas - how to strengthen these and make them more widely used and available (CDIP/3/7). Some industrialized countries representatives expressed doubt on whether these proposals would be feasible in this economical environment, but, of course, this was also met with some skepticism by DCs and LDCs. After all, the kinds of economic problems western countries suffer from are in no way comparable of the normal situation DCs and LDCs face.

Most EU and Group B representatives seemed satisfied with the fairly few comments made by the Czech Republic (in the name of EC and its 27 member states) and Germany. These representatives mainly commented on certain technical issues in the proposed projects execution, whereas the US representative tended to be more vocal and a stronger proponent of the status quo by more often than not referring to practices which would slow and hinder the proposed changes to the projects. As an interesting side topic, the one time the UK representative used an intervention, he mentioned (freely quoting) that as he was representing the UK population as a whole, also Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) constituency not just the government and rights holders, therefore the need for NGO interventions was not all that necessary. Let us hope that the UK delegate really does represent all the stakeholders in UK, although it remains unclear when these stakeholders have the opportunity to be heard by this representative in relation to WIPO CDIP.

NGOs, DCs and LDCs were all worried specifically about the end of the projects - would the projects carry on after the funding for them by WIPO ended? If a project for setting up a center for certain IPR policy lasted 5 years, would it actually be run after this? What would happen to the hardware bought? It would at that stage be old and in need of replacement, at least some of the personnel trained would be offered work elsewhere both during and after the project ended and the state would not necessarily have the funds to keep the project going on their own.

Worries were also presented on the transparency and wider use of WIPO prepared material. Even though a large part of it is available, either for free or at a reasonable price, if there is no infrastructure in place to facilitate the use, it doesn't mean much.

The meeting was a positive experience compared to previous CDIP meetings from the point of view of NGOs. The representatives of NGOs were offered far more possibilities to comment on the items at the agenda than in previous meetings. Especially The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) did a lot of work for this to happen. The representative for CIEL talked with various member states representatives, the chair and the secretariat - with good results. NGOs had their traditional possibility to offer views and point out specifically important topics during the opening session, but the chair also attended the NGO meeting Wednesday morning.

After that meeting, he offered the NGOs a possibility to give short statements both during Thursday and Friday. The first time this possibility was offered, only Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) were able to use this to their advantage.

During Friday, the NGOs were more prepared for this possibility and more of them, and in more depth towards the topics under handling, were able to use the possibility and various short comments were heard.

During Monday's opening statements, Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) and Electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL.net) presented their concerns about libraries using electronic materials in DCs and LDCs . There are problems with this even in industrialized nations, thus they were concerned that in states with less developed practices this would especially cause lots of problems. As an example, the use of orphan works is troublesome even in the industrialized countries: how to handle potential payments if the rights holders are found, how to find out whether the rights holder is known when concentrated databases of e.g. copyright holders do not exist, etc. Licensing practices are also unclear in many DCs and LDCs, and often do not offer any possibilities for libraries to offer electronic materials to be loaned outside specific contracts (see especially CDIP/3/5 and CDIP/3/INF/2).

During Thursday, FSFE brought to attention the advantages free software and open standards would offer in many situations. The free software and open standards advantages (e.g. possibility to translate software instead of relying on the good will of the software producers) enable more democratic innovation models than traditional propietary software, thus allowing developing countries to reap considerable benefits from using free software and relying on open standards.

CIEL was instrumental in getting the possibility for the NGOs to be active during the Friday session. The CIEL representative saw it essential that the databases containing technical information on IPRs (see e.g. CDIP/3/INF/2, Annex II, Recommendation 5) should include model solutions. If possible, they should also be updated in real time instead of in batches. All surveys and studies ought to be based on empirical studies and statistical analysis performed by independent researchers rather than on rights holder associations' or purely theoretical ones, which often seems to be the case. Finally, the results from these studies and surveys should be available to all, not just WIPO member states.

On top of what was presented in the official meetings, the political play in the corridors of power were interesting to follow. Who eats lunch with whom, what was said, but especially what was not said, what kinds of presuppositions were brought to discussions depending on the member state or group of the representative. The decision making cannot be considered open, transparent and democratic, even in good will, but progress towards more open and enabling discussions can be, none the less, seen.

Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) : Third Session
http://www.wipo.int/meetings/en/details.jsp?meeting_id=17382

Center for International Environmental Law
http://www.ciel.org/

EFF
http://www.eff.org/

Library Copyright Alliance (LCA)
http://www.librarycopyrightalliance.org/

Electronic Information for Libraries
http://www.eifl.net/cps/sections/home

FSF Europe
http://fsfeurope.org/projects/wipo/

(contribution by Kai K. Kimppa - Lecturer, Information Systems, University of Turku - Finland)

 

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