Global intellectual property body looks South

Medicinal products derived from Brazil's guarana plant (Paullinia cupania) have been patented in the United States Copyright: IRD / Uguen

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The organisation guiding global policy on intellectual property is to pay greater attention to the interests of developing countries.

At its annual meeting last week, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), created a committee to discuss how to make these interests central to WIPO’s activities and advice.

WIPO also agreed to set up a fund to help indigenous people attend discussions of its work on local genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

The proposal for WIPO to have a development-based agenda was launched last year by a group of 14 developing countries led by Argentina and Brazil.

The other 12 countries were: Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Venezuela.

High-level meetings

This proposal prompted a series of high-level WIPO meetings throughout 2005, during which suggestions from developing countries on how to frame intellectual property rules within a developing country-friendly context were discussed.

By the time this year’s general assembly began, these meetings had made progress but not reached any firm conclusions.

The organisation said in a statement last week that there was “unanimous agreement” between delegates at the general assembly on the importance of ensuring that their policies promoted sustainable development.

However, it then said there were “divergent views on the best way to move the process forward”.

Some countries wanted the discussions in high-level meetings to continue. Others argued that there already existed a committee expressly created for this purpose: the Permanent Committee on Cooperation for Development relating to Intellectual Property, established in 1999 to deal with matters relating to international development.

The special committee set up this month was designed to be a compromise between the two points of view. Its recommendations will feed into the next general assembly in September 2006.

Travel fund for indigenous people

WIPO also set up a fund for members of indigenous communities to travel to Geneva (where the organisation is based) to participate in discussions on genetic resources and indigenous knowledge.

Antony Taubman, head of WIPO’s traditional knowledge division, told SciDev.Net that this is “the final piece in the puzzle”. Over the past few years, says Taubman, WIPO has taken many steps to include indigenous peoples in decision-making.

For instance, WIPO now allows non-governmental organisations representing local communities to attend its meetings and express the views of indigenous people.

As a result, indigenous organisations have helped shape WIPO’s documents on protecting traditional knowledge from being exploited.

Taubman says contributions to the new travel fund are being solicited from wealthy nations and philanthropic organisations.

WIPO held its general assembly from 26 September to 5 October.