Reform of the Intellectual Property System and a WIPO Development Agenda

ICTSD Working Lunch with Professor John Barton

World Meteorological Organisation
Geneva, 19 February 2007

Description | Participants


The function of the intellectual property (IP) system is to encourage innovation and creativity. Patents, in particular, are a statutory mechanism encouraging innovation. Upon describing the details of a new invention, and filing appropriate papers and fees, and inventor can obtain a certificate excluding others from practising the invention, provided that certain statutory standards have been satisfied.

However, the real world points should be mentioned. First, any legal mechanism is imperfect and the patent system is an example. Second, the real working of the patent system varies from industry to industry. Third, attitudes toward IP are cyclic over time.

At the international level, there have been recent efforts to negotiate stronger patent principles at WIPO. In addition, there are substantial efforts, particularly by the US, to negotiate bilateral arrangements to strengthen IP rights. Meanwhile, major patent offices are facing enormous increases in their search load and are looking for ways to share the burden.

Within the developed world, there has been a recent series of critiques of the patent system. Not only do these critiques seek to change the standards for granting patents, they also seek to facilitate the use of patented inventions in the course of research.

For developing nations, the issue is whether the patent system as currently practised, or as reformed in ways suggested, is economically beneficial. For example, the 2002 Report of the independent UK Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, one size does not fit all.

Envisaging an IP system for the future and considering a WIPO Development Agenda, Professor John Barton outlined five recommendations relating to:

  • Sensible standards on patents;
  • A management system for bilateral agreements;
  • Intellectual property and antitrust;
  • Technology transfer barriers; and
  • Sectoral agreements (e.g. pharmaceuticals, energy).

© ICTSD 2004 - Last Update: 05-Oct-2009