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US IP Officials Blast NGOs in Geneva

16-Dec-2012 | Source : WIPO | Visits : 8544
Washington, DC – United States attachés stationed around the world in order to promote intellectual property rights reported on their activities to US industry here last week. And the attachès posted in Geneva had strong words for the work of non-governmental organizations operating at the World Trade Organization and the United Nations agencies.

The US Patent and Trademark Office operate a growing IP attaché program that posts officials in a number of major cities worldwide. Last week, an annual gathering of the attachés was held at the US Chamber of Commerce, the industry association.

IP attachés are being placed in nine cities around the world: Geneva; Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Cairo, New Delhi, Mexico City, Moscow, and Bangkok.

The stated goals of the IP attaché are:

To promote U.S. government IPR policy internationally.

To help secure strong IPR provisions in international agreements and host country laws.

To encourage strong IPR protection and enforcement by U.S. trading partners for the benefit of U.S. rights holders.

Karin Ferriter, the IP attaché to the World Trade Organization, had particularly sharp words for non-governmental organizations operating in Geneva, where she said there a “number of people working to undermine IP.”

Such opponents are “heavily populated” in Geneva but not typically found in the capitals, she said. She referred to a recent trip she had to Cameroon, where, she said, government officials were “true believers” and want better quality products through IP rights.

“People in Geneva are misinformed by the NGO community to devalue IP,” Ferriter said. And the job of the IP attachés is to remind them of the importance of IP and a strong IP system.

“Unfortunately,” she said, NGOs “are working just as much as possible to weaken the IP system.” There is a disconnect, Ferriter said, “But that’s where we come in, to help them see the value of it.”

Ferriter said least-developed countries are being counseled to extend the deadline to enforce the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) at the WTO. She argued that it is not to their own advantage to keep putting it off.

Todd Reves, the IP attaché to the UN in Geneva, particularly the World Intellectual Property Organization, concurred with Ferriter. He said in Geneva, it is often a case of “the wrong people talking to the right people.” Some diplomats there are not IP experts, and some are given more flexibility to act on their government’s behalf, so they are “more susceptible” to the messages of the NGOs. “They may be hearing the wrong message,” he said. “There is a significant gap between Geneva and the rest of the world,” Reves said. Debates at Geneva institutions are used by countries to advance their foreign policy goals.

In general, Reves said it has been an “incredibly busy year” in Geneva, referring indirectly to developments such as the discovery that WIPO was transferring high technology to sanctioned countries like North Korea and Iran. He also gave a list of normative work occurring at WIPO, like the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances.

But he also said developing countries continue to push to use flexibilities in IP law, and push the make the IP system fit different levels of development. “These are things developed countries really try to push back on,” he said.

The attaché in Brazil, Albert Keyack, said there are changes coming in that country. He said the NGOs in Brazil are “fairly vocal,” but that Brazil has “good laws in place.” He also pointed to indications of support for patents by the Brazilian president. It is recognized in Brazil that it has a “wonderful” higher education system but is low in patenting, and is working to change this.

Peter Fowler, the regional attaché for Southeast Asia, said that in that region, intellectual property rights are equated with products being more expensive. So, he said, it is important to focus on the positive benefits of IP. He said that NGOs there are overwhelmingly anti-IP, and are good about echoing the view that IP creates barriers to access and raises costs.

But, Fowler said, there is “no serious government” in the region that is not doing something to improve the IP system. He pointed to Malaysia as an example.

He also said IPR is playing a role in the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and that many companies in the region understand the importance of protecting copyrights, trademarks and so forth. There is a “flurry” of activity among countries, improving their IP systems. They may not be able to get complete harmonization of their IP laws, but they are looking at what each other is doing, he said, adding, “It’s not all bad.”

Fowler said the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement negotiations include 4 ASEAN countries and there is a “ripple effect.” It will raise the bar in ASEAN as to what is expected of countries, he said.
He encouraged industry to step up its involvement in the region. In many countries in Southeast Asia, there are no loud vocal champions, no IP constituents saying, ‘this is what we need’, he said, though this is starting to change.

Fowler also said that in very few legislatures or Parliaments are there voices that advocate for IP. There are “a lot of great policies [and] draft legislation that just sits there, doesn’t move,” he said. 

Reves summed up: “We’re trying to change the view that IP is bad to IP is good.” He mentioned an enterprise forum that is in the works for the 2013 WIPO General Assembly next October, at which companies will highlight the advantages of IP rights. He said that while “the jury is still out,” he is optimistic that five years from now the debate in Geneva will turn more pro-IP.

Ferriter agreed, pointing to positive changes in countries such as Brazil or Vietnam. “It will take time,” she said, “but IP is clearly here to stay.”

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