While Jeremy was living it up in Warsaw, the other half of the IPKat (Ilanah) attended the “TRIPs – Ten Years Later” conference in Brussels arranged by the European Commission in conjunction with Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute. As the title suggests, the aim was to mark the tenth anniversary of the TRIPs agreement, which is part of the WTO agreement that was completed in Marakesh in 1994. The organisers claim that TRIPs is “the basis for a truly globalised intellectual property regime”. However, those attending the conference could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Much of the debate centred around the conflicting demands made by developing and developed countries. There were a number of major flashpoints:
♦ Patent rights in drugs – those representing the interests of developing countries argued for a more lenient compulsory licensing regime and for more exceptions to be made to allow major health problems to be combated. Those representing developed countries countered that such exceptions were already in place but were not being adequately utilised by developing countries. In any event, many health problems can be treated with non-patented drugs. The real problem is lack of funds to buy those drugs.
♦ Enforcement issues – developed countries called for developing countries to make more of an effort in enforcing IP rights, as they are obliged to do under TRIPs. The developing countries recognised that they have obligations, but highlighted the difficulty of enforcing those rights and the resources required for effective enforcement. They also called for greater technical assistance to back up their efforts.
♦ Biodiversity issues – the developing countries expressed their fears about the patenting of genetic resources, particularly that registries in developed countries would grant rights in the genetic resources of developing countries, limiting their availability to those in developing countries and pushing up the prices of seeds which were previously available for next to nothing.
In an attempt to address these problems, the TRIPs agreement was said to be sufficiently flexible to take into account the needs of developing countries, though the two sides took different approaches to how this flexibility can be used.
For much of the time, the IPKat wasn’t entirely sure he’d come to the right place. He could have been forgiven for thinking that he’d stumbled into an international relations conference. What was at issue wasn’t the nitty-gritty of IP rights and obligations under the TRIPs agreement as much as how much each side was prepared to give up to recognise the other side’s interests. While certain important issues were at stake, notably public health, it’s doubtful whether an IP conference is the best place to solve them. At the end of the day, the real issue is whether developed countries are prepared to give special dispensations to developing countries to take into consideration their special problems. This has to be decided at a more fundamental level before it can be applied to the details of an IP treaty. Also, ever-present in the background was the fact that TRIPs is part of a larger trading agreement, and that the compromises that have been reached involve more than just IP.
What was also noticeable was that comparatively little attention was paid to developed countries’ obligations under TRIPs, though there was some discussion about whether the balance between IP rights and the public domain should be altered within the copyright and research and development arenas.
Learn about TRIPs here
What a difference a decade makes – click here, here, here, here and here
Monday, 28 June 2004
Posted by Unknown at 11:36:00 pm