In response to a proposal put forward by Brazil and Argentina, the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) General Assembly (GA), taking place from 29 September to 5 October in Geneva, adopted a decision to move forward the discussions on a ‘development agenda’ in WIPO by initiating a series of inter-sessional meetings, which will report to the next General Assembly. Discussions also took place regarding the current work on the Substantive Patent Law Treaty (SPLT), the increase of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) fees and a WIPO response to a request for information by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on the relationship between the disclosure of origin and intellectual property.

WIPO takes up ‘development agenda’

Brazil and Argentina had submitted a proposal to the General Assembly (WO/GA/31/11) on integrating a development agenda into all bodies of WIPO (see BRIDGES Weekly, 8 September 2004). During the Assembly meeting, 12 additional countries joined the proposal as co-sponsors, namely Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Venezuela. Furthermore, some other countries during the GA expressed specific development-related concerns related to WIPO’s work, including the EU, which requested the WIPO Secretariat to analyse the impact of its work on the Millennium Development Goals.

The Assembly adopted a decision to carry out inter-sessional meetings, that should be open to member states, IGOs and accredited NGOs. Moreover, a report will be produced by 30 July 2005, which will then be submitted to the next WIPO General Assembly in September 2005. Even though Brazil and Argentina had originally suggested the establishment of specific ‘working groups’, the decision on the inter-sessional meeting series was seen as a success for continuing the debate on the issue. WIPO also committed itself during the GA to organise joint international seminars on intellectual property and development with other multilateral organisations, such as UNCTAD, UNIDO, WHO and the WTO.

Two-staged process for SPLT negotiations meets with resistance

The Assembly also addressed the question of how to move ahead on discussions surrounding the SPLT. Two main issues were raised in this context. First, countries discussed a proposal put forward by Japan, the EU and the US at the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (see BRIDGES Trade BioRes 28 May 2004), which identified four issues that should be given priority. These would include definitions of prior art, grace period, novelty and inventive step (non-obviousness). In a later stage the Committee would then cover the current draft SPLT as a whole and consider issues such as declaration of origin of genetic resources and TK, public health and exceptions to patentability criteria.

No consensus could be reached on this matter, as developing country did not agree with moving ahead on the SPLT in a two-staged process that would leave aside many of the their proposals. The Director-General will now undertake consultations on this matter outside the GA. No date for the next meeting of the Standing Committee will be set until these consultations have been finalised.

Too much, too little: PCT fees

An additional item of discussion was the suggestion of the WIPO Secretariat to increase PCT fees. According to the Secretariat, it is running on deficit with respect to its expenses, and — in order to cover the increasing costs of its activities — suggested the increase of fees. While some developed countries did not want to see the PCT fees increase, many developing countries did not consider the proposal as negative, especially if such an increase would allow expansion of the technical cooperation activities. In the end, no consensus could be reached on this issue and it was decided that the Programme Budget Committee of WIPO would discuss the question of fee adjustment and defer any changes made to the fees until the next meeting. This debate may take place in an exceptional meeting of the General Assembly in the future.

WIPO addresses CBD request on disclosure of origin

The Assembly also established a framework to respond to the invitation of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD — made at the 7th meeting of the COP in February (see BRIDGES Trade BioRes, 20 February 2004) — to examine and, where appropriate, address the interrelation of access to genetic resources and disclosure requirements in intellectual property rights applications. During the discussions, WIPO members were divided over whether the response should be prepared by the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Folklore (IGC), the Standing Committee on Patents (SCP) or the Working Group on the PCT Reform (WGPCT). While most developed countries wanted the process to be carried out by the IGC, developing countries insisted that the process should also include other relevant WIPO bodies, such as the SCP and the WGPCT. The final framework creates a new process that will be led by the Director-General of WIPO and will include comments and reactions of different WIPO bodies as well as observers to WIPO.

"Members states agree to further examine proposal on development," WIPO, 4 October 2004; "Notes for WIPO General Assembly," CPTECH, 27 September 2004; "WIPO to convene meetings on development agenda," SUNS, 5 October 2004; "Strong support from South for WIPO "development agenda," SUNS, 4 October 2004.