Development and IP Committee Meetings Begin at WIPO
March 8, 2008
As reported in Intellectual Property Watch on March 4th, the newly formed World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) began its first official meetings this past week in Geneva.
The backstory here has been brewing for years and is fascinating for anyone interested in the politics of global trade and intellectual property:
The proposal to pursue a development agenda at WIPO first emerged in 2004 in a report (PDF) authored by the representatives of Brazil and Argentina. This was one of the first public and institutional challenges to the strict IP regimes that the US and EU had imposed on the Global South through the TRIPS+ agreement, the WTO, and numerous bi-lateral trade agreements. In their proposal, Brazil and Argentina argued that flexible and non-restrictive forms of IP could provide much needed stimulus to innovation, technology adoption, and human capital production for low and middle income countries.
Over the following three years, the Brazilian and Argentine representatives rallied together a coalition of 15 countries behind this agenda, calling themselves “The Friends of Development.” The “Friends” also enjoyed the support of a number of NGO’s and academics who shared their views and contributed to the agenda through the production of ideas, reports, and cooperation in WIPO meetings.
Since Brazil and Argentina’s initial intervention, a non-permanent committee created by the WIPO general assembly has solicited and negotiated proposals on the Development Agenda. These negotiations were contentious and protracted. However, despite resistance from the US, the EU, and private sector representatives, the supporters of the devleopment agenda recently made a big step towards achieving their goals. Last fall, the WIPO general assembly formally adopted the Development Agenda, approving the creation of a permanent committee on Cooperation for Development Related to Intellectual Property. This new committee was charged with implementing 45 proposals (you can download the list here, from another IP-Watch story from September, 2007) immediately beginning in 2008.
The institutionalization of the Development Agenda represents a big turnaround for an arcane and somewhat overlooked global institution that has not much concerned itself with alternatives to rigid approaches to IP. In contrast, many of the proposals made by the “Friends” explicitly or implicitly argued that non-proprietary IP has potential advantages for politically and economically marginalized populations. By contrast, the US representatives emphasized in public statements that this committee brings them a step closer to patent harmonization, a goal that many believe would benefit multinational corporations much more than the world’s poor. Clearly, what the CPID agenda will yield in terms of concrete initiatives, agreements, or treaties remains to be seen.
In creating a permanent committee dedicated to advancing a development agenda and in seeking to extend its authority further into the arena of internet governance, WIPO may take on greater strategic significance in the years to come. The successes of the “Friends” may also spill over into the ongoing development round of negotiations at the WTO.
While I haven’t seen any news yet about the results of this week’s meetings, I will keep an eye on the story and try to post updates. Thanks to the folks at IP Watch (especially William New, the Director and Executive Editor) for their thorough coverage of this issue over the past four years.