International intellectual property (IP) rules
have far-reaching implications on numerous public policy issues.
These rules tend to be complex and their economic, social and
environmental impacts are multifarious and often difficult to
measure. IP has been conceived as a tool to benefit society
by providing an incentive to innovators, authors and artists.
Experience shows that the appropriate level of IP protection
in a particular country may vary significantly over time according
to local models of production and levels of development. There
is therefore no unique IP model to suit all countries.
Many experts and policy-makers have challenged
the so-called "one-size-fits-all" approach to IP,
arguing in favour of a rebalancing of the global IP architecture.
Attention so far has focused thus far on preserving and enhancing
flexibilities under the WTO Agreement on Trade-related Aspects
of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of 1994 - as evidenced
by the debate on access to medicines.
The Doha Development Round in the WTO has been
temporarily suspended. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that
in the case of the WTO, some aspects of the TRIPS Council negotiations
have been very fruitful for the public interest in the last
years. This is particularly true in the case of the Doha Declaration
of TRIPS and Public Health and the recent amendment to article
31 of the TRIPS Agreement. Yet, some negotiating items of the
Doha Development Agenda will still be outstanding. These relate
mainly to the relationship between the Convention on Biological
Diversity (CBD) and TRIPS, and geographical indications (GIs).
Negotiations at WIPO have intensified over
the last few years. Since the TRIPS Agreement entered into force,
new multilateral treaties have been signed and new negotiations
are underway, both on substantive patent law and broadcasting.
These negotiations might move towards increased harmonisation
of IP standards. This process is further reinforced through
international technical cooperation designed not simply to make
national legislation more uniform, but to make the highest IP
standards the common minimum denominator for all countries.
This, in turn, has spurred concerns on the failure of the current
trends to take into account both the development needs of member
countries and the flexibilities under TRIPS.
In response to these developments, a group
of developing countries called upon the WIPO General Assembly
(2004) to consider the integration of a development agenda in
the work of the organization. Their objective was to ensure
that IP policy-making better takes into account development
concerns, such as the need to promote access to technical knowledge,
transfer of technology, maintain public interest flexibilities
and prevent anticompetitive practices.
Simultaneously, free trade agreements (FTAs)
are mushrooming at the regional and bilateral level. According
to the World Bank, the number of agreements in force now surpasses
250, and it has risen six fold in just two decades. These treaties
are often one component of a larger political effort to deepen
economic relations between countries. They also serve as a mean
to lock bilateral and regional trading partners into particular
commitments that reflect the multilateral negotiating goals
of the stronger partners. The principle driving force behind
this trend has been the USA that has led the emergence of a
new generation of FTAs which include comprehensive chapters
on IP that go well beyond TRIPS ("TRIPS-plus"). The
United States Trade Representative (USTR) is further negotiating
under the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), to expire in July
2007, a number of FTAs. On their part, the EU and EFTA have
also been active in producing trade agreements with different
emphases on IP issues. It is expected that the EU and EFTA bilateral
models might become more aggressive in certain areas such as
geographical indications and trade marks, UPOV like plant variety
protection, and increased enforcement.
While FTAs might offer important market access
opportunities in developed countries a number of experts have
expressed concerns that the TRIPS-plus provisions included end
up reducing the opportunities to use flexibilities and exceptions
that have been designed to safeguard certain public interest
objectives and for LDCs, remove any developmental benefits from
the extension of the TRIPS transition period. Obligations in
this new generation of FTAs raise many implementation challenges
regarding policy coherence and maintenance of flexibilities
left in those agreements. At the same time, most developing
countries are still struggling to implement the minimum standards
of the TRIPS Agreement.
With this background, this meeting aims to:
- Provide a platform for a strategic discussion
between relevant stakeholders on relevant trends at the multilateral
and bilateral level;
- Generate a deeper understanding of new IP
obligations in the new generation of FTAs;
- Explore implications of new IP standards
in FTAs on marketing of local products, biodiversity and traditional
knowledge, access to educational materials.