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WIPO Director General Calls for Concrete Outcomes to Benefit Indigenous and Local Communities

Geneva, October 14, 2008

The Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Mr. Francis Gurry, called upon WIPO’s member states to intensify efforts to develop concrete international outcomes on traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources. This call opened the 13th session of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), WIPO’s principal policy forum working on these issues, on October 13, 2008. Newly elected IGC Chairman, H.E. Ambassador Rigoberto Gauto Vielman of Paraguay, echoed the Director General’s call for the Committee to accelerate and focus its work with a view to delivering conclusive results.  

Mr. Gurry stressed the need for progress in the IGC’s work, in light of the high priority given to these issues by many diverse countries and by indigenous and local communities. He called on delegations to “reflect on the progress that we have made and where we are going in this process.” The Director General recalled the IGC’s decision at its last meeting in February 2008 to consider intersessional procedures to help accelerate the IGC’s work and to enable it to submit proposals to the WIPO General Assembly in September 2009 in line with the Committee’s current mandate. Mr. Gurry underlined the importance of maintaining a holistic approach to traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources, in the light of their cultural significance for many indigenous and local communities. But he equally pointed to the need for practical steps that would lead the Committee to areas of common ground on which solid progress could be made. 

As incoming WIPO Director General, Mr Gurry placed strong emphasis on seeing the IGC move towards results. In his acceptance speech upon appointment as Director General on September 22, 2008, he stressed that “…it has become apparent that there is a need to recognize explicitly the contribution to human society of collectively generated and maintained innovation and creativity and to protect the artifacts of that innovation and creativity…I believe that it is time to move this process to concrete outcomes that will see WIPO embrace a broader base of constituents and a more universal mission.” 

Ambassador Gauto Vielman said after seven years of “substantive and lively discussions,” the IGC was in a position to go further. He called on all IGC members to work together to expedite the Committee’s work and to achieve specific results within the relatively short period of time available. 

International expectations of this WIPO process continue to grow. The recently formed Global Indigenous Knowledge and Innovation Partnership (GIKIP), which groups several former heads of state and other eminent personalities, advocates greater global recognition of the positive role of indigenous knowledge (IK) in development and is concerned with the inadequacy of the existing intellectual property system to integrate indigenous forms of creativity and innovation. In the name of the GIKIP Initiative, the former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Mr. Benjamin William Mkapa, contacted the incoming WIPO Director General shortly after he took office with a strong encouragement for its work on indigenous knowledge (IK) systems. 

In a letter, Mr. Mkapa said “Looking to the future, we see it as a vital priority that WIPO’s work in this field be carried forward with renewed commitment at the highest levels. We hope that such efforts would result in a historic outcome that will mark a turning point in the recognition of the immense cultural, scientific and technological contribution of the world’s IK systems.” He added “We trust that, under your leadership and with the support of WIPO’s Member States, progress will be made towards strengthened international legal arrangements, sending a strong positive signal that the door of the intellectual property community is wide open to IK systems.” 

Mr. Gurry welcomed the GIKIP initiative and cited it as another example of the growing importance that senior policymakers across the globe are giving to due systematic recognition within the intellectual property system of the needs and expectations of the indigenous and local communities that develop, maintain and pass on traditional cultural expressions, traditional knowledge and genetic resources

This is the second formal session of the IGC in 2008. A first session in February considered a variety of working formats, including inter-sessional meetings and an expert group work, as practical steps to advance its work in achieving a concrete outcome. The IGC agreed to review formal proposals for enhanced and accelerated working procedures at this week’s session.  

In an attempt to focus and intensify work on the protection of TCEs and TK, the IGC in February drew up proposals to analyze gaps in the protection available in these respective areas. These “gap analyses”  were drawn up through an open commentary process and will be reviewed by the IGC this week. The “gap analyses” contrasts the current international legal framework with specific examples of gaps in protection and consideration of how these gaps might best be addressed.  

The IGC’s work, 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 IGC is further characterized by a series of practical mechanisms to ensure that these key communities have an active voice and remain at the center of the Committee’s work.  This session of the IGC was led off by a panel session in which seven 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 Mr. Albert Deterville of the Bethechilokono Indigenous People of St. Lucia. 

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