For the last year, a group of developing nations, scholars, and public interest groups has been asking the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) -- the U.N. agency responsible for intellectual property rights treaties -- to change the way it works, to better represent the interests of all of its members. A key part of this is the proposal to establish a WIPO Development Agenda, which would require WIPO to consider how its work can help or hinder development.
The third meeting called to discuss the Development Agenda proposal has just concluded, and the news isn't good. The meeting's arguments were about the degree to which WIPO would consider the social and economic impact of specific intellectual property regimes rather than seek to "strengthen" intellectual property as an end in itself. What's at stake here is much more important than the harmony of international intellectual property regulations. WIPO's work impacts access to medicine and information, and even the communications architecture of the Internet. This was a historic opportunity to look at ways to foster development and improve WIPO's ability to meet the needs of its developing nation members. Sadly, it appears that we may be in for more of the status quo.
Just as it was in the first and second meetings, the stumbling block was how the discussion should proceed. The 14 countries in the Group of Friends of Development, supported by the clear majority of Member States, argued for extending the discussions for a year, with three further gatherings of the specially convened Intergovernmental Inter-sessional Meeting (IIM). That way, participants could move beyond talking about talking and address the substantive issues and new proposals at hand.
But the U.S. and Japan wouldn't agree. Rather than working towards fulfilling the putative goal of the meetings -- providing the WIPO General Assembly with specific recommendations for reform -- these countries once again argued that all discussions should be transferred to a moribund advisory committee called the Permanent Committee for Cooperation Related to Intellectual Property (PCIPD). The U.S. also "totally rejected" various proposals put forward by the Group of Friends of Development, such as the idea of a treaty safeguarding Access to Knowledge.
The meeting ended without consensus. The WIPO General Assembly will now be asked to decide in what forum future discussions should take place. So what happens now? We wait for the September WIPO General Assembly meeting to learn the future of the Development Agenda proposal.
In light of the clear mandate given to these meetings, and the serious concerns raised about the PCIPD, it's hard not to question the motivations of those continuing to insist on a transfer to that forum. Why switch to a different and controversial forum when discussions have been underway for several months in a specially convened meeting? As the delegate from India noted, transfer amounts to switching from a horse to a mule midstream.
Pakistan's statement, paraphrased below, sums up the perspective of many of those involved in these proceedings:
We feel this mandate was wasted until the second half of the 2nd IIM. The list of action-oriented proposals continues to grow. It is a work in progress. We are being asked to dismantle this work and not even finish the job that was assigned to this framework.
We believe this depicts a lack of seriousness with regard to development, which has become conspicuously important this year. Even at this late stage, since the work is still in progress, the mandate has not been properly discharged. It is only logical to continue the work of this mandate. It is a situation of a consensus minus a few.
These issues won't go away. They are too important for too many people. The fight for reform and balance continues.
In the next few days we will be providing our analysis of Member States' statements on the various proposals. Running notes from the three days of the third meeting (in reverse order) are after the jump.