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Multilateral IP negotiations: Between rhetoric and reality

Multilateral intellectual property (IP) negotiations face multiple challenges in an increasingly complex global innovation landscape. From climate change to biodiversity and access to medicines, IP has become a cross-cutting issue with important public policy implications. Regional/bilateral trade agreements and plurilateral initiatives have also become a key feature of this global landscape.

In this context, what are the present realities and future challenges facing these negotiations? How can traditional differences be bridged to reach consensual outcomes? How to ensure coherence across the variety of international forums where IP issues are raised? These are some of the questions to be addressed in this dialogue which will bring together capital-based officials to interact with Geneva based IP negotiators, who will provide a practical perspective on how IP negotiations are conducted at forums such as the WTO and WIPO.

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WIPO Ctte Nominates Gurry for Second Term

Francis Gurry is set to serve another six years as the head of the UN’s intellectual property body, after a selection committee nominated him for a second term last week. The recommendation is expected to be formally approved during May’s meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) General Assembly.

Gurry’s first term as WIPO Director-General, which began in 2008, saw the adoption of two major treaties: the Marrakesh Treaty on copyright exceptions for the visually impaired and the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances. (See Bridges Weekly, 4 July 2013 and 27 June 2012, respectively)

This year’s Director-General race featured four candidates competing for the top slot, some of whom indicated that their candidature was motivated by a perception that WIPO was in need of strengthening as an institution. Traditionally when an incumbent UN agency chief is seeking re-election, they are endorsed by consensus, without any challengers.

Along with Gurry, who was nominated by Australia, the other candidates included Deputy Director-General Geoffrey Onyeama of Nigeria, Estonian Ambassador Jüri Seilenthal, and Panamanian Ambassador Alfredo Suescum.

Under WIPO procedures, a final nominee is chosen by the organisation’s Coordination Committee, which votes by secret ballot to whittle down the list of candidates. The committee serves as WIPO’s executive body, and is made up of 83 member states. The outcome is then sent to the full WIPO membership for final approval or rejection.

Last Thursday, in the first round of voting, Gurry received 46 votes, followed by Onyeama with 20, Suescum with 10, and Seilenthal with 7. The top three candidates were slated to advance to the second round. However, Onyeama and Suescum withdrew their candidacies later in the day, leaving Gurry as the consensus nominee.

In his acceptance speech, Gurry thanked the committee for its confidence in him. “The world of intellectual property is a challenging one, but one with great opportunities,” he said.

“I think that our task in the future is to manage those tensions that inevitably occur around intellectual property, innovation, and creativity in order to maximise the opportunities for all member states,” he added.

After approval in May, Gurry will begin his second term in October.

ICTSD reporting.

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The Shale Gas Revolution

As shale gas exploration and extraction ramps up in many parts of the world, its contribution to global climate change and effect on international trade are becoming increasingly complicated and indeterminate. Undoubtedly, shale gas is transforming energy prices, industrial competitiveness, and geopolitics in a number of countries. Further investigation and safeguards are therefore needed to ensure that the shale gas “revolution” fosters, rather than hinders, sustainable development.

This paper, authored by Thomas L. Brewer, a senior fellow of ICTSD, sheds light on these complex issues and calls on governments, industry and international agencies to evaluate the full effects of shale gas on the environment and climate change to determine how it can best fit into a sustainable development agenda.

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South Africa, pharmaceutical industry face off on patent reform

Abstract: South Africa’s efforts to reform its intellectual property (IP) regime in order to improve access to medicines has sparked a firestorm lately, with major pharmaceutical companies openly at odds with civil society and developing countries.

South Africa’s efforts to reform its intellectual property (IP) regime in order to improve access to medicines sparked a firestorm in January 2014, with major pharmaceutical companies openly at odds with civil society and developing countries

The draft IP policy was published in September 2013, with the country currently taking steps toward its eventual implementation. The changes would establish a system of substantive patent examination, and would also strengthen the existing criteria for “patentability.” These revisions, proponents say, would make it easier for generic drugs to compete in a market that has long been dominated by the research-based pharmaceutical industry.

“The current system allows pharmaceutical companies to obtain multiple patents on the same drug, even for inventions that do not fall under the country’s definition of innovation,” various civil society organisations have said in advocating for the reform.

The existing regime, they added, thus allows these companies to extend their monopolies and charge inflated prices for medicines, while making it difficult for generic manufacturers to compete.

However, the leak soon thereafter of a memo aimed at helping major drug companies undermine the proposed change has escalated the row, with South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi openly comparing the industry campaign to “genocide.”

Civil society, developing countries weigh in

Several developing countries, along with a coalition of civil society groups, have spoken up in support of South Africa, during a meeting of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Executive Board end of January, 2014.

The industry response is “unacceptable in a country facing one of the world’s most acute HIV and [tuberculosis] epidemics,” Médecins Sans Frontières said at the meeting, noting that medicine prices in South Africa are up to 35 times higher than in countries where generics have a greater market share.

Some civil society organisations have formally called on the WHO Executive Board to adopt a resolution expressing solidarity with the African country.

WHO Director -General Margaret Chan has similarly expressed her concern, saying that “no government should be intimidated by interested parties for doing the right thing in public health.”

Public health and access to medicine is believed to have been greatly affected by the international agreement on TRIPS instituted at the Uruguay Round in 1994.

The WTOs main agreement on IP, which offers intellectual property protection to drug discoveries and innovations, has been a source of contention between pharmaceuticals and Non-governmentals in the public health circles.

ICTSD reporting

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WIPO Genetic Resources Talks Advance, Though Differences Linger

Delegates meeting at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) last week made some limited progress in discussions on genetic resources and intellectual property rights, producing a new streamlined draft text to forward to the organisation’s General Assembly in September.

However, the new document still contains many brackets on a range of important subjects.

These discussions are held under WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), which aims to develop an international legal instrument(s) that would protect genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.

Problematic disclosure

One of the provisions that sparked the most debate last week was on the mandatory disclosure of the origin of genetic material used by patent applicants, or on which they seek patent claims.

While developing countries say that the requirement is essential for preventing biopiracy, some developed countries and industry groups argue that it could disincentivise innovation and be burdensome on patent offices and applicants.

According to the draft text, which still contains brackets in this area, each party shall require applicants to disclose the country of origin and source of the genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. However, new language has also been introduced to the effect that patent offices must provide sufficient effective guidance to applicants on how to meet disclosure requirements.

The range of post-grant sanctions for non-compliance with the disclosure requirement and whether these include patent revocation remains unresolved.


The IGC also identified “preventing misappropriation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge” as the main policy objective of the proposed international instrument. For many years, developed countries had been reluctant to accept this concept as the key goal behind the WIPO discussions.

The widely-deliberated definition currently includes a US proposal that outlines what would not qualify as misappropriation - namely, any genetic resources and their associated traditional knowledge that have been attained lawfully. Some examples, they say, could include reading publications, reverse engineering, and inadvertent disclosure.

Another IGC meeting is scheduled for July, in the hopes of bridging the remaining differences before the General Assembly.

ICTSD reporting; “WIPO Genetic Resources Text Compiles Differences, Heads To General Assembly,” IP-WATCH, 10 February 2014.

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