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Over 100 international NGOs ask WIPO to postpone forthcoming IP Summit in South Africa

Ramesh Shankar, Mumbai
Thursday, February 9, 2012, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

A large number of NGOs spread across the world have demand to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to postpone the forthcoming IP Summit in South Africa in April this year as the event is lacking development and public interest dimension; lacks transparency and information; and there are conflicts of interest in the entire Africa wide programme.

The NGOs have also demanded to the WIPO to reconsider its partnership with the different interests involved and work to organize a balanced forum that is development oriented and upholds public interests as well as that is free of any conflicts of interests and influence of actors that tend to promote an unbalanced IP agenda.

Expressing concern over the holding of the proposed Africa IP Summit, the international NGOs said that the process of organizing such a forum, (i.e. the selection of speakers, the drafting of the programme, criteria for selection of participants) should be transparent and all information should be promptly available on WIPO’s website. “Further we also call on WIPO to avoid partnering actors that tend to promote an unbalanced IP agenda in all its future activities” the NGOs said.

In a letter to the WIPO director general Francis Gurry, more than 100 international NGOs expressed their concern over co-organising the summit  in partnership with US, France and Japan which are known for advocating TRIPS plus agendas in developing countries in the interests of their own industries and priorities. For instance these countries are proponents of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a plurilateral treaty that is widely criticized for its secret negotiating process and the detrimental impact on public interest issues such as access to medicines, freedom of expression over the internet and access to knowledge.

To make matters worse the Summit is being sponsored by the private sector in particular the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP), Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Company etc., that clearly have a strong stake in a pro-IP protection and enforcement agenda. The involvement of the private sector also raises issues of conflict of interests.

Besides, the NGOs said, the summit lacks a development and public interest dimension. The summit concept paper suggests a programme that undermines the spirit of Development Agenda. It is premised on the notion that heightened IP protection and enforcement will deliver development and protect public interest. This distorted approach has no historical or empirical basis and has been clearly rejected by the Development Agenda process. Important development issues such as the different levels of development, the importance of flexibilities (e.g. LDC transition periods, exceptions and limitations e.g. parallel importation, compulsory licensing,) in meeting developmental objectives, examining and addressing the impact of IP on critical public interests issues such as access to affordable medicines, and access to knowledge, appear to be disregarded.

Even more worrying is that the Summit aims to promote the link between IP enforcement and public health and safety, presumably to frighten people into accepting inappropriate standards of IP enforcement agenda. We stress that an IP enforcement framework will not deliver effective public health protection as IP rights are not granted on the basis of the quality and safety of the product. Instead inappropriate standards of IP enforcement are likely to hinder public health such as access to affordable medicines. This has been amply demonstrated by the many seizures of quality generic medicines in transit at various European ports, the NGOs said.

Criticizing the organisers for lack of transparency and information, the NGOs said that the WIPO and African regional IP organizations are key partners in the organization of the Africa IP Summit. However to date there appears to be no information available on WIPO’s website about this Summit. This undermines implementation of the Development Agenda recommendation on transparency.


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