More than 1,000 individuals and groups have signed a letter urging the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to open its meetings next month on global patent and copyright policy to more government outsiders.
The forums to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, are expected to set the tone for future action impacting the economic growth of the developing world.
In an open letter produced by two Brazilian activists — Pedro de Paranagua Moniz and Pedro AD Rezende — and Cory Doctorow, European affairs coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco, WIPO was encouraged to open its deliberations to a broader spectrum of interested parties.
“[W]e call for an immediate PARTICIPATION of civil society and consumer-interest non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within WIPO’s activities,” the letter, titled the “Manifesto for Transparency, Participation, Balance and Access,” declared. “Specifically, but not limited to accepting applications from NGOs to serve as ad hoc observers at the upcoming Inter-sessional Intergovernmental Meeting next 11-13 April 2005, and for the Permanent Committee on Cooperation for Development Related to Intellectual Property, next 14-15 April 2005.”
According to the letter, “there is an evident absence of balance between rights-holder representatives, and public and civil society interests” in WIPO’s deliberations.
James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology (CPT) in Washington, D.C., told TechNewsWorld, “[WIPO] has been criticized for being way too close to right-holder groups like patent owners, copyright owners, that sort of thing, and pushing an anti-developing-country agenda.”
Developing Nations Revolt
“Now there’s this revolt within the developing countries themselves to try and rethink the work program for WIPO and the way it operates,” he explained.
“There’s this debate shaping up on the the best way to think about development for developing countries and whether there should be high levels of intellectual property protection or should there be more open source,” he continued.
Although groups like the EFF and the CPT have accreditation and will be able to attend the Geneva sessions, they will be at a disadvantage at the meetings if their non-accredited allies are not allowed to join them at the forums, Love maintained.
“By limiting it to only the groups that have permanent accreditation, they end up with a very big ratio of rights owners to consumer-type interests because historically the only groups that bothered to be accredited were people like the farming industry or the recording industry, that kind of thing,” he said. “It’s new that civil society has taken an interest in this committee.”
According to the EFF’s Doctorow, WIPO is an agency in transition.
“WIPO is undertaking a long-overdue and halting journey from a place where industrial interests meet to safeguard their marketplace advantages, to a place where the UN’s humanitarian values hold center stage,” he said in a statement. “This letter is the latest step in the important campaign to refocus WIPO on providing effective technical assistance that meets the real needs of its developing country members.”
There were signs this week that WIPO is reevaluating its attitude toward the developing world. In a “communique” issued yesterday by its Working Group of Industrialized Nations on Intellectual Property and Development, it said that it “should do more to ensure that capacity building is targeted to the expressed needs of developing countries.”
“Capacity building covers not only the building of IP expertise and resources,” the communique noted, “but should include ensuring that IP systems in developing countries function to facilitate growth and development.”
According to Steve Kunin, an attorney with Oblon, Spivak in Alexandria, Virginia, the relationship between the developed and developing world is very much a tit-for-tat proposition.
“It’s like a contract where the industrialized nations would like to set up plants and do business in developing countries, essentially hire and train the citizens of that country, but in exchange for that the countries need the proper systems and enforcement mechanisms for protection of intellectual property,” Kunin told TechNewsWorld.
That simple contract, though, is an imbalanced one in the eyes of some developing nations. “What the developing countries feel that the developed countries don’t understand is that there are certain relationships between intellectual property and the economic, social and cultural development of those countries,” Kunin explained.
“What it comes down to — particularly in the areas of genetic resources and traditional knowledge — many of the developing countries feel that the developed countries have trampled on their rights and resources,” he continued. “The developing countries want to change that calculus and get much more respect for the natural resources of those countries.”