What happens when rich, poor, and middle-class countries get together to agree on future IP regulation? If your answer was anything but “gridlock,” you’re an incurable optimist.
Last week’s WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) meeting was supposed to mark an important step forward for the WIPO Development Agenda, but instead left it standing in place. The Development Agenda began in 2004 when Brazil and Argentina introduced a proposal for future WIPO regulation that would make WIPO into something more than the international IP police. Future WIPO decisions would be guided by this Development Agenda, which seeks a balance between copyright holders and the public, especially in developing countries where access to IP (think patented drugs, for instance) is a huge concern. The Agenda would also make WIPO into more of a development body by directing the organization to provide technical assistance for developing countries.
WIPO agreed to adopt a Development Agenda and held three meetings on the topic last year. What emerged was a set of 111 proposals (PDF) grouped into six categories. Last week’s meeting of the Provisional Committee on Proposals for a Development Agenda (PCDA) was supposed to come up with a recommended list of proposals to present to the WIPO General Assembly in September. Coming up with proposals is simpler than agreeing on them, though, and the meeting ended up with little consensus on the most important issues.
The EFF attended the meetings and has posted both notes and transcripts on their web site (day one, day two, and day three). Progress was impossible, as the group could not even decide how to evaluate the proposals. On the last day, Brazil and Argentina both announced their withdrawal from the meeting due to concerns that the method of selecting proposals for recommendation had been unfair and that most of their core concerns had not been included. In the end, the PCDA punted, sending the matter back to the WIPO General Assembly.
Depending on what proposals are ultimately passed, the Development Agenda could have a significant impact on issues such as health care and the public domain in countries across the globe. It could also ensure that countries have some leeway in passing their own IP laws, rather than following WIPO decisions in lockstep. Finally, the Agenda would put much more emphasis on technology transfer and technical assistance designed to benefit up-and-coming countries who want to compete in the knowledge economy.
Whether the full General Assembly can come to more consensus than the PCDA remains to be seen. The September meeting will no doubt be contentious, as the EU and the US wield so much power and oppose many of the projected changes.