Something's Missing Here

28 September 2008

The first of the US Presidential Debates was held this weekend.  The debate's focus was "national security and foreign policy," which Jim Lehrer said included "global finance."  But what about the global IP issues?

Now, I didn't actually get to watch the debates.  I'm on the other side of the planet and my internet connection is too weak to support CNN's live stream.  It's possible that IP was touched on during the debates and just not mentioned by any of the internet sources I read, but I doubt it.

Why is IP a Foreign Policy Issue?
Perhaps the state of the economy has made topics like IP development look like non-issues, but one doesn't have to look far to see that America's position on IP is critical to the its future relations with foreign countries.  Each week, IP Think Thank posts a list of the top intellectual property news from around the world.  The length of this week's Global Week in Review General Edition shows that there is a lot happening.  A lot in which America is involved in policy decisions and sculpting the direction of IP.

Most notable in relation to foreign policy are the WIPO meetings, which include the WIPO General Assembly, the IP-5 (Patent Offices of US, Japan, Europe, Korea and China) meeting on harmonizing patent procedures, and a variety of committee meetings spanning issues in every topic of IP.  There's also the matter of the US Special 301 Report, which effects the US's trade policies.  This Report is directly related to trade sanctions placed on foreign countries.  Some claim these sanctions violate America's duties under other treaties and force other countries to change their domestic laws for the benefit of American special interest groups.  (See IP Justice.)

In addition to issues in which the government is already directly involved, there are organizations in America and other countries pushing for global reform of intellectual property laws.    An intellectual property expert group in Canada recently delivered a report on the bio-tech industry that encourages loosing of patents in relation to medicines.  Australia's innovation review urges changes in the requirements for issuing patents, dramatic adjustments the court process for infringement cases, and the opening up of the flow of information in society.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation is involved in a lawsuit demanding public access to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiations draft work.  ccInternational, a division of Creative Commons, is working to introduce creative commons license options to jurisdictions around the world.  These reforms have direct implications for every segment of American society.  There are also private organizations and lobby groups pushing for tighter IP laws.

So if the candidates were to debate IP issues, what should the people know?  Here's a few things:

  • WIPO's IGC committee has been discussing protection of Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Cultural Expressions, Expressions of Folklore and Genetic Resources for almost a decade.  Developing countries are pushing for strong protection in these areas.  What should America's position be on a treaty extending global rights to Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Expressions of Culture?
  • The domestic IP policies of many countries depends on their placement on the Special 301 Report.  The President has the ability to unilaterally impose trade sanctions on countries he feels provide inadequate protection for US IP.  How will you use this ability?
  • The five largest patent offices in the world are engaging in a series of meetings to reform their patent systems.  Additionally, Senator Jon Kyl recently introduced a patent reform bill in Congress.  (See Patent Docs for a report on the new bill.)  
  • Non-profit organizations such as EFF and Creative Commons urge for changes to intellectual property laws that will create a freer flow of information.  While at the same time groups like the RIAA and other Hollywood representatives are pushing for stricter laws protecting intellectual property.  Do you think changes are appropriate?  If so, what kinds of changes would you encourage?

WIPO's New Direction with WIPO's New DG

24 September 2008

The WIPO General Assembly began its thirty-fourth session this week.  One of the first orders of business on its agenda: electing a new Director General.  On Monday, Francis Gurry of Australia gave his acceptance speech.  (You can read his full speech here.)

Gurry's Goals
Mr. Gurry's acceptance speech contained all the expected rhetoric of unity and working together to improve the global state of IP.  It also contained thoughts on some specific areas needing attention.  Primarily, and encompassing all others, is the explosive growth of technology.  A backlog of patent applications in Patent Offices around the world is one direct effect of this growth.  Another is the increase of copyright infringement, made easier by developments in digital technology.  Mr. Gurry encourages building upon the existing Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) to address the first. The second issue, he says, requires a reexamination of WIPO's role as "the international organization responsible for intellectual property."

Beyond these classic IP issues of patent procedure and copyright infringement, the new Director General discussed issues of global concern where IP might be of assistance.  Mr. Gurry seems enthusiastic that IP holds possibilities for LDCs (Least Developed Countries) in terms of closing the knowledge gap and improving economies.  IP protection of traditional knowledge and "a global knowledge infrastructure" are two steps towards these goals.

Indeed, both of these are projects in process.  The Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) has been discussing international IP protection of these areas for eight years, and the newly established Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) is working to implement a list of recommendations that includes expanding its PATENTSCOPE® database, creating agreements for access to other existing databases, and establishing "inter-regional IP Search Databases."

Mr. Gurry highlighted the relationship between advancements in technology and the fight against climate change, disease, and other such global concerns.  He urged WIPO to add its IP contribution to these challenges and proposed that a new Division in the Secretariat would focus on these concerns.

Where's WIPO
When BIRPI, the predecessor to WIPO, was originally formed, its purpose was to help facilitate international protection of patents, trademarks and industrial designs (under the Paris Convention), and literary and artistic works (under the Berne Convention).  The current focus appears to be a bit blurry.  As seen from the Director General's speech, WIPO's concerns now include:

  • "the stimulation and diffusion of innovation and creativity"
  • "the establishment of order in the market"
  • "dealing with the growth of demand and internationalization of the patent system"
  • "returning value to creators, performers and their business associates"
  • dealing with "the scourge" of "risks to health and safety and consumer protection" arising from counterfeit goods
  • "contribut(ing) to the reduction of the knowledge gap"
  • contributing to "greater participation on the part of developing and least developing countries in the benefits of innovation and the knowledge economy"
  • capacity building of LDCs
  • "making intellectual property work to the advantage of all countries"
  • "broadening intellectual property to make it more responsive to the needs of the developing world"
  • "address(ing) global challenges" such as "climate change, desertification, epidemics, access to health care, food security and the preservation of biodiversity"

Intellectual property encompasses so much and touches on so many areas of life.  In its attempt to handle issues in several areas, WIPO seems to be pulling itself in different directions.  Is it a development org? An environmental agency?  An enforcement body? An administrative support system?  Mr. Gurry did recognize this confusion to some extent in his acceptance speech.  Commenting on WIPO's role in copyright, he pondered two alternatives:

Should that role be confined to awareness-raising and the training of customs officials, the police and the judiciary?  Or should it encompass a more robust engagement and, if so, alone or in cooperation with other concerned international agencies?

In some ways, it is good that one organization is trying to address all these issues.  It means that each representative is (or should be) aware of what's going on and how these issues coincide.  This could lead to more well-rounded and effective agreements, if agreements are ever reached.  Some committees, like the IGC, appear stalled with sharp divisions between developed and developing countries.  However, the CDIP actually seems to be getting somewhere.  At its first meeting, the committee began sorting through the list of recommendations it is to implement and took action on six of the forty-five items.

In Sum
Mr. Gurry has a lot of ideas for guiding WIPO.  The organization has been under scrutiny lately, and the world is very interested to see in what kind of direction this new Director General will take "the international organization responsible for intellectual property."


20 September 2008

Welcome to the Ip's (rhymes with "zips") What's Up blog!  The importance of creative works in our global economy is no secret.  Governments, special interest groups, ordinary people and world leaders are continuously battling over protection of intellectual property.  This is a place to share thoughts, news and ideas about intellectual property law around the world.  It is a foray for the authors into the global conversation.  We will discuss current happenings, give our takes on the state of ip, and with your help, create a meaningful dialogue about where intellectual property is now and where it's headed.

We welcome you, and invite you to check out some of the intellectual property blogs featured on our sidebar.  Thanks for visiting and enjoy!