IGC Agrees on Ways to Further Advance its Work
March 4, 2008
A key committee of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), meeting in Geneva from February 25 to 29, 2008, explored practical steps to intensify and accelerate its work relating to intellectual property and traditional knowledge, genetic resources and folklore, with a view to developing concrete international outcomes following the renewal of its mandate by the WIPO General Assembly states in October 2007. Under its new mandate the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Folklore (IGC) is required to accelerate its work. The mandate leaves open the possibility for specific outcomes, including international instruments.
Following the election of a new chairperson, Mr. Jaya Ratnam, who is also Singapore’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, the IGC considered a variety of working formats, including inter-sessional meetings and expert group work as practical steps in advancing its work towards a concrete outcome. The IGC agreed to review formal proposals for such enhanced and accelerated working procedures at its next session in autumn 2008.
The IGC reinforced its intention to continue in-depth discussion of traditional cultural expressions (TCEs), traditional knowledge (TK) and genetic resources (GRs). With regard to TCEs, the Committee undertook a detailed debate, paying close attention to the interplay between the existing international legal framework and calls for extended or enhanced protection of TCEs. The debate on the protection of TK demonstrated increasing convergence on the role and context of such protection, although some participants pointed to the need for greater clarity of focus. Indigenous participants especially highlighted the specific character of indigenous knowledge systems. Work on genetic resources issues was informed by closely complementary developments in other forums, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United National Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The IGC will review concrete proposals for its work in this area at its next session.
In an attempt to focus and intensify work on the protection of TCEs and TK, the IGC drew up proposals to analyze gaps in the protection available in these respective areas. These “gap” analyses will be developed through an open commentary process leading up to the next IGC session, and will contrast the current international legal framework with specific examples of gaps in protection and consideration of how these gaps might best be addressed. This exercise will build on the solid foundation already established by the Committee in developing two new reports on the various positions of its members on the key issues arising from calls for enhanced protection of TK and TCEs.
The IGC process, which formally began in 2000 following a decision by WIPO member states to establish the body, has been uniquely characterized by the prominent contribution and role of indigenous and local communities. The format of the IGC is further characterized by a series of practical mechanisms to ensure that these key communities continue to have an active voice and remain at the center of the Committee’s work. This session of the IGC, for example, was led off by a panel session in which eight representatives of indigenous communities from across the globe shared their practical experiences and concerns as well as lessons learned from the Committee’s work. This session was chaired and moderated by Ms Debra Harry (Northern Paiute). Moreover, the WIPO Voluntary Fund for Indigenous and Local Communities has received an unprecedented level of support and interest from both potential beneficiaries and donors, ensuring that it will continue to play a transformative role throughout the IGC’s current mandate. Community representatives continued to play an increasingly active role in the substantive debate, and benefited from more active caucusing and pre-meeting consultations, improved coordination facilities and logistical support, provided by WIPO in cooperation with the Documentation Centre for Indigenous Peoples (DoCIP).
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