Info Service on Intellectual Property Issues (Sept12/01)
20 September 2012
Third World Network
Oversight needed on intellectual property and public policy activities
Published in SUNS #7441 dated 20 September 2012
19 Sep (Sangeeta Shashikant) -- The World Intellectual Property Organisation's
(WIPO) engagement with public policy issues, particularly food security,
public health and climate change, have heightened concerns among developing
countries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) leading to calls
for more oversight and information.
WIPO's activities on intellectual property (IP) and public policy
issues are undertaken under Program 18 titled "IP and Global
Challenges". This program coordinates with Program 20 (External
Offices and Relations) and through this cooperation engages in a range
of United Nations and other intergovernmental processes and negotiations
on a variety of issues, including those pertaining to public health,
food security and climate change.
WIPO's extensive engagement on these issues has created significant
unease among developing countries as currently there is no oversight
by Member States over the activities WIPO conducts under the Program
or the positions it takes on the inter-linkages between IP and public
policy issues, as it engages in various intergovernmental processes.
At the recent Program and Budget Committee (PBC) meeting on 10-14
September, countries reviewed WIPO's performance in implementing Program
The African Group and the Development Agenda Group (DAG) requested
for "more frequent reporting by program manager before the proper
WIPO committee" such as the Committee on Development and IP (CDIP)
and the Standing Committee on Patents (SCP). The African Group and
DAG also stressed that a one-time review of the program during the
PBC was inadequate "given the important activities conducted
by this program".
NGOs have also expressed concerns with regard to the activities of
Program 18. In recent months, a group of NGOs has written letters
to Mr. Francis Gurry, the WIPO Director-General, and Mr. Johannes
Christian Wichard, the Deputy Director-General, raising various concerns
with regard to the Secretariat's approach to food security.
In the first letter dated 18 July 2012, the NGOs raised concern with
regard to the organisation of a workshop in May 2012 on IP and Food
Security, stating that the "workshop lacked a balanced range
of topics and participants and consequently failed to deliver the
full range of perspectives on the role of IP". In line with the
Development Agenda recommendations, the NGOs also requested more information
on the workshop.
In another letter dated 5 September, the same NGOs, disappointed with
WIPO's "non-committal" response to their letter, reiterated
their request for more information on the workshop organised in May
and stressed that future meetings should have a balanced representation
of participants and perspectives, including critical perspectives
of the role of the IP system.
In response to the Secretariat's assertions, including its claim that
there was "consensus" from conferences it had organised,
"on the enabling role of an effective legal and administrative
framework of intellectual property for innovation and agricultural
development", the NGO letter also requests for more information
on specific decisions of WIPO's Member States that has "mandated
WIPO to explore the role of IP in increasing agricultural productivity
and the conclusions that have been reached on the matter", adding
that WIPO's policy decisions must be driven by Member States.
Concern over activities of the Global Challenges program and the demand
for more oversight by developing countries is not new. It has been
raised by developing countries on numerous occasions, but has made
little headway due to opposition from developed countries.
At the 2011 PBC session, South Africa, on behalf of the African Group,
noted that Program 18 addressed important issues but the activities
were not being discussed by Member States in any platform in WIPO.
It recommended that the program activities be discussed in the existing
intergovernmental forum, that is by the SCP or the CDIP.
This recommendation was reiterated and supported by many other developing
countries such as the Development Agenda Group, India, Pakistan and
Brazil. Brazil also expressed concerns regarding the mandates followed
within Program 18 and the need for its activities to be reported to
a WIPO body to allow all Member States to have a say on the priorities
and the implementation of this program.
However, the recommendation faced significant opposition from developed
countries, as they insisted that discussing Program 18 activities
in the SCP or the CDIP would require a change in those committees'
mandates and this they could not support. Developed countries preferred
maintaining the status quo, that is for the PBC to discuss activities
of Program 18. However, this was not acceptable to developing countries,
which felt that substantive guidance had to be given to the Secretariat
and this could not be done through the PBC.
Developed countries' resistance to more oversight over Program 18
persisted at the recent September PBC, during discussion on Program
Performance Report for the 2010/11 biennium, as Member States reviewed
the Secretariat's performance under Program 18.
In the Program Performance Report - a self-assessment report - the
Secretariat states that the program on IP and Global Challenges "finalized
implementation of its first full biennium in 2010/2011 contributing
to WIPO's goals by providing support for strong, empirically well-founded
policy dialogues between governments, international organizations,
civil society actors and the private sector on current and emerging
global issues touching on IP".
During the discussion, the Secretariat highlighted the trilateral
cooperation between the World Trade Organisation, World Health Organisation
and WIPO on IP, trade and health, adding that the policy overlaps
need to be managed. It also highlighted the WIPO "Re: Search"
initiative, adding that technology transfer agreements have been concluded
and a meeting of partners will take place in October.
[According to WIPO, the Re: Search initiative is a new consortium
where public and private sector organisations share valuable IP and
expertise with the global health research community to promote development
of new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics to treat neglected tropical
diseases, malaria, and tuberculosis. However, the access terms promoted
by Re: Search has been criticised by public health groups such as
Medecins Sans Frontieres, which noted that "... instead of allowing
all countries where neglected diseases are prevalent to access the
products, the initiative restricts royalty-free licences to least-developed
countries only, with access for other developing countries negotiable
on a case by case basis", adding that "With its timid approach
to licensing terms, WIPO is falling behind in its access policies,
when it should be leading".]
On climate change, the Secretariat highlighted a pilot platform known
as "WIPO GREEN" that aims to promote accelerated adaptation,
adoption and deployment of environmental technologies, particularly
in developing countries and emerging economies.
[According to the WIPO website, this initiative "Serves as a
hub connecting various critical partners, with WIPO facilitating policy
dialogue and networking" where WIPO positions itself as a broker
for "owners of proprietary technologies to make selected technologies
and solutions available as packages, including know-how, services
and materials". It offers "credibility", billing itself
as "A trustworthy entry - through WIPO and other intergovernmental
and non-governmental organization partners - into the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, in particular
its Technology Centers and Networks." Some NGOs who follow the
climate negotiations, where IP is extremely contentious, expect similar
restrictions as those in the Re: Search initiative.]
On food security, the Secretariat said that it was exploring what
WIPO can do in the area, adding that it had identified East Africa,
in particular Tanzania, as a case study on the potential use of IP
to improve productivity.
In response to the information on Program 18 provided in the Program
Performance Report, Egypt, on behalf of the African Group and the
DAG, said that it attached heightened importance to the activities
of Program 18 because it deals with key policy issues of significant
interest to African and developing countries, especially public health,
food security and climate change. Egypt then noted that the report
on Program 18 in the Program Performance Report makes the general
statement that "design, planning and implementation of activities
undertaken by the program were guided by relevant DA (Development
It added that "While such a statement is welcomed, it is not
explanation or elaboration on what exactly DA recommendations guided
the program, how the guidance was ensured, and what are the specific
results the program achieved last year to address the challenges of
food security, public health and climate change in African and developing
Egypt stressed the need for more frequent reporting by the program
manager before the proper WIPO committee, given the fact that PBC
reviews the Program Performance Report (PPR) once a year, and the
important activities conducted by this program.
"In this context, we would like to suggest that given the fact
that the program was engaged in the implementation and preparation
of four development agenda projects on technology transfer, open collaborative
and IP based models and IP competition policy, then it would be appropriate
to make the required additional reporting of program 18 before the
Committee on Development and Intellectual Property. In addition, it
could be also presented before the Standing Committee on Patents because
of the integral substantive relationship between the program activities
and the international patent system, and national experts and officials
on patent issues will be present to make use of these several activities",
South Africa said that it would appreciate a written report
on what WIPO was doing and the challenges it was facing, adding that
there was a need to discuss the issues in the SCP or in CDIP. It also
sought clarification on how WIPO defined "green technology"
and whether WIPO had an "indicative list" of such technologies.
Brazil and Pakistan also supported the call for the Secretariat to
provide more written information on its activities.
The United States questioned the value added from extra reporting
to the SCP and the CDIP, while Switzerland said that there
was no need for further reports apart from what was in the Program
Performance Report, adding, "We have the necessary detail. We
don't need to go beyond that". It also claimed that there was
agreement that the PBC was the right forum to discuss these issues.
Egypt, responding to the US's question, stressed that there
was indeed value in additional reporting, stressing that Program 18
was presented as part of PPR once a year. It added that CDIP was relevant
because the report on Program 18 itself had a clear statement that
the Program was engaged in preparation of a number of CDIP projects
while the SCP was relevant because it related to the patent system,
further stating that there were no experts on public health, food
security or climate change in the PBC.
South Africa, supporting Egypt's response, countered the Swiss
statement, pointing out that it was inaccurate to say that countries
had agreed at the last PBC not to have additional reporting. It stressed
that it was not advisable for Member States to simply rely on the
Program Performance Report and the oral information presented by the
Secretariat. "We feel that we can add value by giving additional
direction to WIPO," South Africa said.
China also concurred that it was important to discuss issues
of Program 18 in other committees including the CDIP.
No specific decision was taken on the matter. However, developing
countries insisted that they preferred "to note" rather
than approve the Program Performance Report. Developed countries opposed
this approach. The final decision reached states: "The Program
and Budget Committee (PBC) having reviewed the Program Performance
Report (PPR) and recognizing its nature as a self-assessment of the
Secretariat, recommended its approval to the General Assembly, subject
to the comments, concerns and suggestions for improvement raised by
Member States and reflected in the report of the PBC as well as annexed
to the PPR (document WO/PBC/19/2)".
NGO CONCERNS ON WIPO'S ENGAGEMENT ON FOOD SECURITY
In recent months, a group of NGOs concerned with WIPO's activities
on IP and food security in Africa has also written repeated letters
to the Director-General and the Deputy Director-General highlighting
their issues and concerns and requesting WIPO for more information
on its activities.
WIPO organised a workshop on Intellectual Property, Innovation and
Food Security on Sustainable Wheat Production in East Africa, which
took place in Geneva on 10-11 May 2012. Following the workshop, seven
NGOs and NGO networks raised concerns in a letter to WIPO dated 18
The letter was signed by the Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity, an
alliance of many NGOs; the African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa;
the Eastern & Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF);
Surplus People Project; Swissaid Tanzania; Tanzania Organic Agriculture
Movement (TAOM); and the Tanzania Organic Certification Association
The letter expressed concern that participation in the workshop was
dominated by representatives from the private sector and the biggest
and most powerful multinational corporations (e. g. BASF, Bayer CropScience,
Dow Agro Sciences, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta), adding that there
was hardly any representation of civil society organisations that
champion farmers' rights or even of key national farmers' organisations.
The letter further states that the workshop programme largely took
a one-sided approach, that is of promoting the IP system as a mechanism
for food security without exploring alternative or different perspectives
on the subject, adding that the approach was clearly tilted in favour
of industry interests, in particular multinational corporations.
The letter also expressed concern that representatives of corporations
seem to have played a central role in several sessions of the workshop.
For instance, according to the programme, Dr. Michael Kock, the Global
Head of Intellectual Property, Seed and Biotechnology for Syngenta
International AG was the main and only contributor for the session
titled "Brainstorm Initial Thoughts on Next Steps - How to Build
Areas of Future Focus".
Thus, overall, the NGOs were of the view that the workshop lacked
a balanced range of topics and participants and consequently failed
to deliver the full range of perspectives on the role of IP, including
critical views about the IP system relating to the adverse impacts
on food security or agro-biodiversity such as those articulated by
Mr. Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on
the Right to Food.
The letter also said that the programme and participants were heavily
tilted in favour of the interests of the private sector, particularly
multinational corporations, stressing that the strategies of many
of the corporations represented was basically to use intellectual
property laws to commodify the world seed supply, control plant germplasm
and maximise company profits by eliminating farmers' rights, in particular
their right to save, use, exchange and sell seeds.
In the letter, the NGOs requested, in line with Recommendation 5 of
the WIPO Development Agenda, that WIPO make available publicly and
to the signatories full information about the workshop, including
presentations, report of the proceedings of the workshop, expected
and actual outcomes of the workshop, and information on any follow-up
that is expected to take place.
It also requested that for future similar workshops, WIPO ensure balanced
representation of participants and perspectives. In particular, the
workshop should also discuss critical perspectives of the role of
the IP system and ensure adequate participation of civil society groups
and farmer groups that do not represent commercial interests but rather
champion farmers' rights and the conservation of agricultural biodiversity
for livelihood security and food sovereignty. The signatories also
expressed willingness to participate in future discussion involving
African countries, provided travel assistance is made available.
In its response dated 23 July 2012, the WIPO Deputy Director-General
said that many organisations including the Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Committee on
World Food Security (CFS) have identified increasing agricultural
productivity as a key component in the fight against food insecurity,
adding that "Member States have tasked WIPO to explore what the
proper role and contribution of intellectual property might be to
Within the framework of that programme, WIPO held the workshop to
explore possibilities for a case study on the role of IP protection
for sustainable wheat production in Tanzania, WIPO further added.
It also said that "present or otherwise associated" were
government officials and scientists from Tanzania, professors from
Sokoine University in Tanzania, representatives from the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Maize and
Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), FAO and UPOV, the Tanzania-based
private breeding and seed sector, representatives of companies operating
globally in wheat- related innovation, the International Seed Federation
(ISF) and "with a view to a possible future cooperation, potential
The response further adds that the various public conferences on the
topic found "there was a consensus on the enabling role of an
effective legal and administrative framework of intellectual property
protection for innovation and agricultural development". The
response further states: "... we are still very much at a preliminary
stage of this work" and "Depending on the progress made,
the intention is clearly to associate further partners that may be
able to contribute to the balanced and appropriate use of intellectual
property in creating an enabling environment for increasing agricultural
productivity at an appropriate moment".
The NGOs (the same signatories) in yet another letter sent in September
2012 reiterated their concerns and request for more information on
the workshop held, as WIPO had failed to provide the information requested.
The letter also states that it found WIPO's response "disappointing,
as it is non-committal about ensuring that future meetings have a
balance[d] representation of participants and perspective", adding
that it found WIPO's current approach to IP and food security, "totally
The letter also sought information on "which specific decision
of WIPO's Member States has mandated WIPO to explore the role of IP
in increasing agricultural productivity and the conclusions that have
been reached on the matter". It also adds that being an intergovernmental
agency, WIPO's policy decisions have to be taken by Member States
and that it was inappropriate for WIPO to take the position that there
is consensus on the matter on the basis of "public conferences".
The letter also highlights the findings of the report of the UN Special
Rapporteur on the Right to Food that illuminated the several adverse
impacts of the IP system, including neglect of the needs of poor farmers
in developing countries, unaffordable agriculture inputs, the jeopardising
of farmers' seed systems and threatening agro-biodiversity. The letter
stresses that WIPO, being a UN agency, "needs to acknowledge
and incorporate (not disregard) these considerations in its work on
IP, innovation and agriculture".
[To the knowledge of the author, no further information or response
has been received from WIPO at the time of writing.]