HRI News Review — Week of 30 April 2012
News and events from the past week, and a feature article from the CMBD News
- Energy, Environment, Agriculture, Food Security, Water Scarcity
- Finance and Economics, Trade and Development, IP and IT
- Health, Human Rights, Labour Issues, Governance and Crime
Bridging Fault Lines
While we recognized the contributions of “Visionary Inventors” on World Intellectual Property Day (26 April), we are impressed with the visionary leadership of Francis Gurry, the Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization, who met with us over lunch a few weeks ago. Here we summarize his general remarks in the context of the high-speed transformations of technology in the 21st century. Mr. Gurry spoke of three main areas of concern for WIPO going forward, which he characterized as “fault lines in the IP landscape”. These include the continuing divide between developed and developing countries, the challenge of resistance to the general acceptance of IP globally, and the issues surrounding multilateral versus bilateral or plurilateral approaches to resolving IP issues.
On the divide between developed and developing countries, Mr. Gurry observed that the landscape has been changing, but without concrete expression yet for the new economic reality. That is to say, there are more players, with sharp increases in patent filings among the major emerging economies, and these are positive developments. There has been a huge increase in patent filings by China, and this continues to grow rapidly. India, too, which had been submitting patent filings in the area of 800 or so per year, has now taken that up to 1400, bringing it to the level of a smaller European country. So the divide is narrowing, but we also recognize that the least developing countries are not really moving and require special attention. This is an understandable concern of UNCTAD that was addressed at the UNCTAD XIII gathering.
On the acceptance of IP globally, the Director-General pointed out recent events, such as the Wikipedia blackout raising awareness and mobilizing opposition to the proposed US Congressional legislation (the “SOPA and PIPA” debates) to restrict on-line piracy. The fault line there was between the service providers like Google and Apple, on the one hand, and the content providers like the Motion Picture Association and entertainment industry, on the other. Other challenges to the protection of proprietary information and intellectual property have been more draconian – the hack attacks by the group Anonymous on the FBI and Department of Justice websites, and the rise of the Pirate Party in Germany. Mr. Gurry suggested that such events are indicative of the growing awareness and concern regarding IP rights and that they should be taken as a permanent feature of on-going dialogue rather than a passing phenomenon. The concerns are beyond the technical — the actions invoke the cultural perspectives about the way that knowledge is distributed and enhance the conversation considerably. The solution is to effectively manage and channel the dialogue.
The third fault line lies in differences regarding approaches for addressing IP issues — multilateral versus bilateral and plurilateral approaches, compounded by the variety of approaches in different sectors. These differences exacerbate the frustrations in the private sector which decries the slowness of the international governmental organizations in dealing with real-time issues. The problem is one of complexity of layers, across regions and among institutions. The challenge is to develop coherence in IP policy. The problem of coherence is for IP as it is for all other matters, ultimately dealt with at the national level, for that is where the power to impose IP rules lies. That said, there are certain foundation rules and other matters that are best addressed multilaterally, and WIPO strives to play an effective role. In those efforts, WIPO has met with many successes, including the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the international registration of trademarks and industrial designs. By encouraging cross-regional informal negotiating groups, new agreements are being reached on audio visual performances with a buy-in by China and convening of a formal diplomatic conference in July for what will be known as the Beijing Treaty. Several other candidates for agreement this year related to the rights of the visually impaired, design law formalities and protection of IP rights in broadcasting. These may for the moment only be taking us to consensus on the 20th century issues, not yet the 21st century issues, but the confidence building is a slow process. Some issues may still remain at a discussion stage, such as the recent exchanges on traditional knowledge. But we should build on the Beijing conference experience, to maintain the momentum and make agreements the normality through the active participation of these kinds of cross-regional dialogues.
An excellent commentary from a reader of the original publication of this article, providing a US perspective that reflects on how the consideration of trade agreements can have a direct bearing on the dynamics of IP, can be found here.
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- Liechtenstein Congress on Sustainable Development and Responsible Investing 2012 Vaduz, Liechtenstein 2 May – 4 May
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