Policy Seminar: The Future of the Intellectual Property System

Nyon, Switzerland, 20 November 2006

Description | Agenda | Participants | Documents


Intellectual property (IP) rules have far-reaching economic, social and environmental impacts. While they are a tool for encouraging innovation, they also limit access to cutting-edge information and ideas by awarding exclusive rights to the generators of IP. Governments face the challenge of providing IP protection, while preserving access to new ideas and products, including medicines, educational materials, as well as conservation of traditional knowledge and culture.

Developed countries make up the vast majority of net exporters of IP, as IP rights are predominantly owned by people and companies from these countries. In the past, governments have been free to accede to IP treaties when they felt it was in their national interest to do so. However, the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), adopted as part of the Uruguay Round negotiations, marked a major change by requiring all member countries, for the first time, to award and enforce IP rights across all sectors. For this reason, governments seek to balance private rights with public interests in a way that is consistent with their respective national objectives and development goals.

While the TRIPS Agreement established minimum standards of IP protection for WTO members, free trade agreements often include comprehensive chapters on IP that go well beyond the TRIPS Agreement. Many argue that these "TRIPS-plus" provisions ultimately reduce the opportunities to use flexibilities and exceptions to safeguard public interests, such as health.

An important debate around these questions has recently emerged in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in the context of the so-called "development agenda."

The seminar aimed to address some of the interests that need to be balanced in today's knowledge-based economy and explored ways that this might be accomplished.

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