4 October 2004. For a number of years, progressive NGOs and developing countries (sometimes called "copyfighters") have been pushing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to start thinking about ways of promoting development, equality and creativity instead of just intellectual property. As one activist put it recently: "The WIPO's raison d'etre is a better world. Stronger intellectual property laws is just one way of accomplishing that, and intellectual property only works sometimes." The opponents have been mostly Western governments, big corporations who are trademark and patent owners, the movie industryand the IP lawyers associations.
The first phase of the WSIS also reflected this struggle. Civil Society's quite active Patents, Copyright and Trademarks Caucus along with governments from Brazil, India and some other states, fought hard to make sure that not only intellectual property, but also knowledge sharing were mentioned as the sources for creativity and innovation in the summit declaration. The fight continued in the WIPO after the first phase of WSIS ended in December 2003.
Victory for Argentina and Brazil
It seems that now there is a chance for real movement. At the general session of the WIPO in Geneva last weekend, the organisation's assembly has adopted a decision to start a development agenda within its work. It had been proposed by Argentina and Brazil and during the session was also co-sponsored by Egypt.
The WIPO general assembly now "welcomes the initiative for a development agenda", "decides to convene intersessional intergovernmental meetings to examine the proposals" and orders the secretariat to "make immediate arrangements" to organize a joint international seminar on Intellectual Property and Development, with the participation of other relevant multilateral institutions, including UNCTAD, WHO and UNIDO, WTO, and open to NGOs, civil society and academia. A report on these issues will be presented to the General Assembly in 2005 for further consideration.
This victory even weighs more, as at the same session the proposal by the USA, Japan and the European Patent Office for a new working plan on the harmonization of patents was turned down again. Negotiations have been in stalemate here for the last 20 years.
NGO action outside and within WIPO
An alliance of NGOs in parallel to the proposal by Argentina and Brazil had issued the "Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO" that had been signed by hundreds of individuals from all over the world. These activities had been coordinated by the international Civil Society Coalition (CSC) led by the Consumer Project on Technology (CPTech). The Geneva Declaration so far has been translated into six languages and is still open for endorsement.
The CSC was officially accredited as an observer to WIPO at the same session. In its first contribution to the plenary, the CSC asked for an international treaty on the right to access knowledge.