The Assemblies of the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) concluded on Wednesday, October 3, 2007, following a review of activities over the past year and discussions on the Organization’s future work program. The WIPO Assemblies bring together the 184 member states of the Organization. The WIPO General Assembly was chaired by Ambassador Martin I. Uhomoibhi, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations in Geneva.
Below are some highlights of the meeting that took place from September 24 through October 3, 2007 (according to the order of the agenda). This is not a comprehensive account of all the deliberations during the Assemblies. The full report of the Assemblies will be made available on the WIPO website once member states have approved the draft report. The secretariat will circulate, both electronically and by regular mail, the draft report of the Assemblies to member states who may submit their comments within a specified time period after which the report will be deemed to be formally adopted.
Program Performance Report 2006
The General Assembly approved the Organization’s Program Performance Report for 2006, expressing satisfaction with progress in a wide range of activities, most notably the positive results obtained by the Provisional Committee on Proposals related to a WIPO Development Agenda (PCDA). They applauded the work of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), called for renewal of its mandate and urged an acceleration of the work in this area. WIPO’s wide-ranging technical and legal assistance in building IP capacity within developing countries and transition economies was praised and the Organization was urged to continue and intensify this activity. Other issues highlighted by delegations included the important role of the Advisory Committee on Enforcement and the need to advance the work of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents.
Report of the Desk-to-Desk Assessment
The General Assembly considered the Final Report on the Desk-to-Desk Assessment of WIPO’s Human and Financial Resources alongside the secretariat’s comments on the Final Report and the Audit Committee’s observations and recommendations in respect of the Report. The Report was widely welcomed by member states as a useful input, for all stakeholders of the Organization, to improve key elements within the management and administrative areas of WIPO such as human resource policies and performance management. The recommendation of the Audit Committee that the secretariat develop an implementation plan and road map was supported. Several member states believed that while the Report would assist the Organization in improving important aspects related to WIPO’s human resource management, adequate care and attention would need to be given to the multilateral nature of the Organization and its complex mandate which consisted of service provision to both the private sector and member states. Member states concluded that the proposal for implementing the recommendations of the Desk-to-Desk Assessment Final Report under an integrated Organizational Improvement Plan and the corresponding road map prepared by the secretariat would be reviewed by the Audit Committee and then be submitted to member states for their consideration and approval.
Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)
New features and flexibilities to enhance the international patent application filing system under the PCT were approved by the PCT Assembly. The PCT is an international treaty which facilitates the process of obtaining patents in up to 138 countries.
The Brazilian National Institute of Industrial Property and the Indian Patent Office were appointed as International Searching Authorities (ISAs) and as International Preliminary Examining Authorities (IPEAs), bringing the total number of such Authorities to 15. These Authorities, in particular, prepare international search reports and opinions on patent applications submitted under the PCT. Delegates applauded the achievements of the Offices of Brazil and India in developing their systems to the required standard. The appointment of the 13 offices presently acting as ISAs and IPEAs (namely, the offices of Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Finland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, the United States of America, the European Patent Office and the Nordic Patent Institute) was extended for a period of 10 years.
The establishment of an optional supplementary international search system to enable applicants to find additional relevant prior art at an early stage and in additional languages was approved. This will give applicants an early and more complete view of the prior art and will make the PCT a more useful system on which to base business decisions. The Regulations governing this system will enter into force on January 1, 2009, but the supplementary search services themselves will only be available when at least one ISA offers it. ISAs are free to decide whether to provide this supplementary service and under which conditions.
The accessibility of the PCT system was further enhanced by including Korean and Portuguese as languages in which international applications may be published (the other publication languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish). Thus applicants filing in these two languages will no longer need to file translations for the purposes of processing the application during its international phase. This measure will apply to international applications with an international filing date that is on or after January 1, 2009.
Member states also decided to grant PCT receiving offices the authority to extend the time period for the applicant to pay the fee for requesting restoration of the right of priority; clarified that international publication can only be reliably prevented by way of an express withdrawal received by WIPO prior to completion of technical preparations for international publication; and to allow the ISA, at the applicant’s request, to take into account, in carrying out the international search, not only, as at present, the results of an earlier search carried out by that Authority but also the results of an earlier search carried out by another ISA or any national office. These amendments will enter into force on July 1, 2008, and will apply to international applications filed on or after that date. The PCT Assembly also noted a report on the Quality Management Systems for International Authorities.
Member states further requested that WIPO carry out a study on the eligibility criteria for determining the group of developing and least developed countries whose applicants should benefit from a reduction of PCT fees, but did not agree on proposals for an across-the-board PCT fee reduction at this stage.
Program and Budget
The Program and Budget Committee (PBC), which met in September 2007, had recommended adoption by the General Assembly of the revised budget for the 2006/07 biennium and proposals for the 2008/09 biennium, with certain stipulations. Despite the PBC’s recommendations, member states could not reach a consensus on the adoption of the program and budget documents. Some delegations felt that it was not possible to approve these without further addressing certain other issues on the Assemblies’ agenda; other delegations did not hold this view and were in favor of immediate approval of the program and budget without linking it to other issues. Member states voted on the matter. While a majority of votes were in favor (64 in favor versus 44 against), the required two-thirds majority (72 votes) was not attained and hence the program and budget documents were not adopted at this session. Under the WIPO Convention (Article 11(4)(e)) “If the budget is not adopted before the beginning of a new financial period, the budget shall be at the same level as the budget of the previous year, in accordance with the financial regulations.”
New Financial Regulations and Rules
Member states adopted new Financial Regulations and Rules which were elaborated after consultation with member states and the WIPO Audit Committee, the External Auditor, and the Internal Auditor, in line with best practice in the United Nations system of organizations and other relevant international standards. These new Financial Regulations and Rules will enter into force on January 1, 2008.
The WIPO Assemblies agreed to the principle of the adoption, by WIPO, of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) by 2010, in line with a recommendation by the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) of the United Nations that this should become the official accounting standard for the United Nations system.
Internal Oversight Mechanisms
The General Assembly noted the consolidated report of the WIPO Audit Committee for the 2006/07 biennium and approved changes to the WIPO Audit Charter. The report summarized the Committee’s main tasks in the biennium and put into context the concept, role and function of the Committee as an oversight body within the UN system. Member states approved the revised terms of reference of the Audit Committee and the revised Internal Audit Charter, which constitutes the framework for the internal audit function and establishes its mission.
The General Assembly took note of the report from the Director of Internal Audit and Oversight and the Audit Committee, including the approval by the Director General of a first Evaluation Policy for WIPO. The Policy will provide a comprehensive framework for planning and conducting evaluations as well as using value-added evaluative information for decision-making processes for the improvement of present and future activities, within the WIPO Results Based Management (RBM) system.
Internal Audit Reports
The proposal by a member state for the inclusion of an agenda item entitled “WIPO Internal Audit Report Number IAOD/INV/2006/2 of November 2006, and Appropriate Follow-up Thereto” was objected to by some member states, mainly on the grounds of the confidential nature of the report mentioned in the proposed item. This led to consultations, and subsequently, to a reformulation of the agenda item to “Internal audit reports of WIPO issued since the last General Assembly [to be referred to the Friends of the Chair].” It was agreed that the item may first be considered in informal consultations by a small group of Friends of the Chair, comprising regional coordinators, plus one delegation from each regional grouping.
In informal consultations, certain members of the group of the Friends of the Chair sought to recommend to the General Assembly a substantive debate on the confidential internal auditor’s report, containing allegations against the Director General, and its follow up. Other members argued that an immediate, substantive debate would compromise due process and, that at this stage, the General Assembly may only address the procedural aspects of this matter.
Following extensive consultations, the Chairman reported to the General Assembly on the outcome of the deliberations of the Friends of the Chair. The Chairman stated that there were certain basic areas in which agreement was reached: firstly, that the issue must be handled in accordance with due process, and second, that the matter should not be handled in a manner that may be construed as targeting any individual or group of individuals, but be intended primarily to uphold the integrity of WIPO as a UN specialized agency. He informed the General Assembly that some members were of the view that the issue for consideration was purely one of procedure and that the majority favored issuing a request to the Audit Committee to review the subject report. There was no agreement, however, on the time frame within which the review and corresponding recommendations would be made by the Audit Committee and the follow-up steps. Still a few argued that the report be debated at the current session of the General Assembly.
In view of these discussions, the Chairman handed his own proposal for consideration by the General Assembly, which essentially entailed review of the matter by the Audit Committee within 60 days. Further informal consultations took place among the Friends of the Chair. The Chair subsequently reported to the General Assembly that there was no agreement on this proposal either. Consequently, the Chairman ruled that “the Assembly did not agree on this matter.” In a discussion after the ruling, and in response to questions, the Chairman said it is up to member states to determine how this matter should be treated in the future. There were continued efforts until the end of the General Assembly to arrive at a consensual agreement on this issue, but none succeeded.
Advisory Committee on Enforcement (ACE)
The General Assembly noted the large number of activities undertaken in the field of IP enforcement in the last year. These included cooperation and coordination at the international, regional and national levels. Member states discussed the future work of the ACE, including whether the Committee should focus on elaborating best practices, guidelines or recommendations or on the examination of development-oriented concerns and broader societal interests.
The Protection of Audiovisual Performances
Member states noted that WIPO had organized a number of national and regional seminars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to promote progress on the issue, at the levels of national legislation and international consensus-building. In preparing these events WIPO has followed a flexible and balanced approach to the protection of performers at the national level, in such practical areas as contractual relations and collective bargaining, the exercise and transfer of rights and remuneration system. WIPO will continue to organize similar events in the coming year. Member states agreed to keep the issue on the agenda of the General Assembly in 2008.
In 2000 a diplomatic conference on the protection of audiovisual performances made significant progress in shoring up the rights of performers in their audiovisual performances but did not reach agreement. The adoption of a new instrument would strengthen the position of performers in the audiovisual industry by providing a clearer legal basis for the international use of audiovisual works, both in traditional media and in digital networks.
Protection of Broadcasting Organizations
The General Assembly took note of the current status of the work in the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) on the protection of broadcasting organizations and cablecasting organizations. Delegations acknowledged that, following two special sessions of the SCCR, progress had been made towards better understanding of the positions of the various stakeholders and recognized the efforts of all participants and stakeholder organizations throughout the process. Member states expressed the wish that all the parties continue to strive to achieve an agreement on the objectives, specific scope and object of protection, as mandated by the General Assembly and decided that the subject of broadcasting organizations and cablecasting organizations be retained on the agenda of the SCCR for its regular sessions and to consider convening a Diplomatic Conference only after agreement on objectives, specific scope and object of protection has been achieved.
A Development Agenda for WIPO
The General Assembly adopted the recommendations for action made by the PCDA. The recommendations include a set of 45 agreed proposals covering six clusters of activities, namely: Technical Assistance and Capacity Building; Norm-setting, Flexibilities, Public Policy and Public Knowledge; Technology Transfer, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Access to Knowledge; Assessments, Evaluation and Impact Studies; Institutional Matters including Mandate and Governance; and Other Issues. Member states further agreed to establish a Committee on Development and Intellectual Property to develop a work-program for implementation of the adopted recommendations. This committee, which will hold its first meeting in the first half of 2008, will monitor, assess, discuss and report on the implementation of all recommendations adopted, in coordination with relevant WIPO bodies and will discuss IP and development related issues as agreed by the Committee, as well as those decided by the General Assembly. The General Assembly also approved a set of 19 proposals for immediate implementation which were identified following a process of informal consultations organized by the Chairman of the PCDA prior to the General Assembly.
Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP)
With regard to the future work program of the SCP, member states unanimously agreed to commission a report, by WIPO, on issues relating to the international patent system covering the different needs and interests of all member states. This report would, upon completion, constitute the working document for a session of the SCP to be held in the first half of 2008. Member states also agreed to a draft outline for the report and specified that it would contain no conclusions. The report would be made available to all SCP members and observers by the end of March 2008.
Digital Access Service for Priority Documents
Member states took note of the status of a new voluntary service that responds to the business needs of applicants by enabling them to meet priority document requirements of patent offices without having to physically obtain and submit certified copies with each of them. The service will also facilitate the work of patent offices which may also obtain priority documents under alternative arrangements. The priority right established by the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property is a basic principle of the patent system which offers anyone who has filed an application for a patent in a member country a right of priority, for the purpose of filing in other member countries. Member states noted progress in implementing this service which is being developed by WIPO with a number of patent offices and is expected to become operational in the first half of 2008. The system will leverage existing systems, such as the Electronic Document Interchange system under the PCT, and will offer a gateway (via WIPO’s PatentScope website) to digital libraries to be maintained by patent offices as well as the WIPO secretariat. Digital libraries will be required to meet established criteria. The confidentiality of priority documents that are not publicly available will be ensured by means of access control lists held on WIPO’s website, managed by the applicant using a code, and secure channels for communications between WIPO and patent offices.
Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resource, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC)
The General Assembly extended the mandate of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) for two years. While recognizing the significant work done to date, member states reaffirmed their commitment to achieving greater convergence on the issues. This decision renews the General Assembly’s 2005 directions to the IGC to accelerate its work, and to focus in particular on the international dimension of intellectual property and genetic resources, traditional knowledge (TK), and folklore or traditional cultural expressions (TCEs). The mandate excludes no outcome, including the possible development of an international instrument or instruments in this field without prejudice to the work pursued in other fora.
The Madrid System for the International Registration of Trademarks
Decisions by the Assembly of the Madrid Union for the international registration of trademarks will fundamentally change the structure of the Madrid system. Most notably, members approved the repeal of the “safeguard clause.” As from September 1, 2008, for states bound by both the Madrid Agreement and the Madrid Protocol - the two treaties which govern the Madrid system - only the provisions of the Protocol, the most recent and flexible of the two treaties, will apply. Consequently, from that date, international trademark registrations will be governed by the Madrid Protocol only in all member countries which are party to the Protocol (currently 74), i.e. also in those which are party to both the Protocol and the Agreement (currently 50). The Agreement will only remain applicable in relations with the member countries bound solely by the Agreement (currently 7). The Protocol relaxes certain provisions of the Agreement, in order to allow adherence by states and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) whose trademark registration systems do not match with the provisions of the Agreement, in particular in respect of the fees to be paid by applicants, the choice of working languages and the applicable time-limits.
To ensure the continued enhancement of the Madrid system, members decided to give the Working Group on the Legal Development of the Madrid system an ongoing mandate to consider other issues relating to the legal development of the Madrid Protocol.
The Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs
Applicants from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will soon benefit from a significant reduction in certain fees payable under the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs. This came following a decision by the Assembly of the Hague Union on a number of changes to the fee structure under the Hague Agreement. The Assembly approved a 90% reduction in fees payable to WIPO and the standard designation fees for LDC applicants. The Assembly also adopted a recommendation encouraging member countries that are charging individual (as opposed to standard) designation fees, to indicate, in a declaration, that, for applicants from LDCs, these individual fees are reduced to 10% of the fixed amount. A simplified publication fee structure was adopted (where color or black and white reproductions will be subject to the same fee) and further different levels of the standard designation fee, depending on the level of examination carried out by the office of a country designated in the international registration, were introduced. These amendments will enter into force on January 1, 2008.
The Madrid and Hague Unions also approved the financing of a four-year investment program (2008-2011), aimed at generating efficiencies by modernizing the information technology (IT) infrastructure of both the Madrid and Hague systems. The Madrid and Hague Assemblies also approved a new methodology to calculate and apply flexibility formulas which allow for adjustments of the respective budgets (upwards or downwards) within a given financial period in line with variations in demand for services.
Internet Domain Names
The General Assembly also reviewed WIPO's activities in relation to the protection of intellectual property in the Internet Domain Name System (DNS). The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center administers dispute resolution procedures under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) established by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in December 1999 on the basis of recommendations made by WIPO. Since then, the Center has administered close to 12,000 UDRP cases covering nearly 30,000 separate domain names, plus over 15,000 cases under special policies for the start-up phase of new domains. In 2006, the Center witnessed a 25 per cent increase in cases over the previous year, administering a total of 1,823 UDRP cases covering domain names registered in generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) and in the now 50 country code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs) for which the Center also provides its services, the highest number of UDRP cases handled by the Center since the year 2000 (the first full year after the UDRP took effect). WIPO’s caseload has continued to increase in 2007. WIPO’s UDRP proceedings have so far involved parties from 143 countries and been conducted in 13 different languages. WIPO continues to take steps and to develop tools to ensure fair and transparent UDRP procedures, enhance the consistency of decisions taken under the UDRP and to help parties assess their chances in UDRP proceedings.
Member states also took note of the status of recommendations made by the WIPO General Assembly in 2002 in relation to the Second WIPO Internet Domain Name Process. This process concerns the relationship between domain names and certain types of identifiers other than trademarks. Recommendations for the protection in the DNS of the names and acronyms of IGOs are under consideration by ICANN which is responsible for management of the DNS.
Patent Law Treaty (PLT)
The PLT Assembly unanimously agreed on the applicability to the PLT of a number of modifications to the Administrative Instructions under the PCT made in the past year (see document PLT/A/3/1), and adopted four model international forms, which can be used for the relevant purposes before the patent office of any contracting party to the Treaty (PLT/A/3/2), namely: Request for Recordation of Change in Applicant or Owner, Certificate of Transfer, Request for Recordation/Cancellation of Recordation of a License and Request for Recordation/Cancellation of Recordation of a Security Interest.
Member states took note of measures to provide developing and least developed countries and countries in transition with additional technical assistance to meet their obligations under the PLT, in particular, in relation to the filing of communications in electronic form in those countries.
In line with the Organization's commitment to transparency and inclusive debate, the WIPO Assemblies also agreed to grant observer status to ten additional international non-governmental organizations and four additional national non-governmental organizations.
WIPO Construction Project
Member states noted that the start of construction work for the WIPO headquarters extension was on schedule for February 2008. The 2005 session of the WIPO Assemblies has already approved financing the project mainly by means of a commercial loan.