Chile spearheads change at WIPO patent committee

In the wake of the recently concluded broadcasting negotiations at WIPO in June 2007 (Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights) where a proposed instrument for the protection of broadcasting organizations was put on cold storage but not terminated, a Chilean proposal on the examination of limitations and exceptions in the copyright area has come to the fore.

Chile has proposed that the WIPO copyright committee examine limitations and exceptions for the blind, educators and librarians. India has reinforced Chile’s reformist thrust by calling upon WIPO to consider socially relevant issues such as access to knowledge and education.

Although the Chilean proposal to the WIPO copyright committee has attracted considerable attention, an equally far-sighted proposal to the WIPO patent committee has remained under the radar thus far. The Chilean proposal was submitted to the WIPO Standing Committee on Patents (SCP) in December 2006 calling upon WIPO to include in its new work programme: 1) an agenda item on limitations and exceptions on patented inventions for example on patents related to the public interest, education, research and government use and 2) an agenda item on patents and the adoption of standards.

The full Spanish text of the Chilean proposal to the WIPO patent committee is contained below:

Con relación al acuerdo de la Asamblea General relativo a propuestas para el establecimiento de un nuevo plan de trabajo para el Comité Permanente sobre el Derecho de Patentes (SCP), te informo que Chile propone que los siguientes temas sean considerados en dicho plan de trabajo:

1. Excepciones y Limitaciones en materias de patentes, por ejemplo, excepciones de interés público, educación, investigación y uso de gobierno.

2. Patentes y adopción de estándares.

It is our understanding that the Chair of the WIPO General Assembly (Ambassador Enrique Manalo, Philippines) along with the WIPO Secretariat are preparing a survey of different country submissions as to what they feel should constitute the programme of work for the WIPO SCP. The survey is an indicative list, and Member States at the WIPO General Assembly in 2007 will determine the future work of the WIPO patent committee.

Chile’s multi-pronged endeavours to imbue the WIPO patent committee and the WIPO copyright committee with a more reflective and development- oriented approach is welcome and of significant strategic import to the Development Agenda and the access to knowledge (a2k) movement. In addition to the limitations and exceptions proposal tabled to the SCP, Chile’s proposal on patents and standards carries reinforces discussions that have begun to take place at the World Trade Organization and the Internet Governance Forum on remedies to mitigate the inherent tension between the public interest and patents in information and communications (ICT) standards.

Technical standards, although not created by legislatures, states or courts, create regulatory structures that transcend international boundaries, affect numerous public policy issues and impact developing countries and many stakeholders who don’t have an equal voice in their creation, management or adoption. There are significant problems in the global IT standardization ecosystem. In many regards, ICT standards are being privatized, and there has been little public debate on this development. Ultimately, this hurts consumer choice, equitable access, competition and innovation.

It is incumbent on Member States and other interested stakeholders to add teeth to the positive momentum achieved by the WIPO Development Agenda by fully supporting the concrete steps initiated by Chile on patents and standards and limitations and exceptions. As the old adage says, “the proof is in the pudding”; great expectations lay upon the General Assembly to deliver upon the promises reached at the conclusion of the Development Agenda negotiations.