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WIPO Conference on Intellectual Property and Public Policies Wraps Up

Geneva, July 14, 2009

The WIPO Conference on Intellectual Property and Public Policy Issues wrapped up on July 14, 2009 with an acknowledgement of the ability of intellectual property (IP) to drive innovation, creativity and transfer of technology, while recognizing the need to ensure that the IP system produces social and economic benefit. Dialogue and collaboration between major stakeholders – international organizations, government, industry, and civil society – is necessary to address these questions.

Summarizing two days of discussions, Maximiliano Santa Cruz, Chairman of WIPO’s Standing Committee on Patents (SCP) which mandated the conference, said, “we have to acknowledge that intellectual property is not an end in itself, but an instrument to promote innovation, creativity and the dissemination of knowledge.” He added that while the IP system may present some challenges, it can also be part of the solution to development questions.

Mr. Santa Cruz noted that a common theme during the conference was “that innovation and technology coupled with technology transfer is no doubt an important contribution to solving problems that may arise in other areas of development.” He said numerous presentations demonstrated that different levels of maturity exist in discussions on the interrelated themes addressed by the conference, namely, climate change and the environment, public health and food security. Mr. Santa Cruz, who was recently appointed as head of Chile’s industrial property office, said the impact of IP rights may be stronger in areas where there are no substitute technologies, such as health, than in other areas like green technologies where different technology options exist.
In his closing remarks, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said the conference had “deepened the dialogue” on these important issues. Mr. Gurry pointed to the growing recognition of knowledge as the basis for wealth creation and the role of intellectual property in harnessing its value. He said the conference further reflected “the effort of the IP community to reach out to the social and economic contexts that IP is designed to address.” He noted that “innovation, after all, is supposed to produce a social and economic benefit which is best perceived in areas where we face, as an international community, global challenges.”
Earlier in the day, discussions focused on questions relating to public health and food security.
The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan, called for “strong collaborative action” among international organizations to address questions relating to public health, trade and intellectual property. She told participants that while innovation had a key role to play in new drug development, market forces alone were insufficient to ensure the delivery of affordable and universal public health solutions. “In short, market forces and the incentives, such as patent protection, that propel them cannot by themselves adequately address the health needs of developing countries.”
Incentives, Dr. Chan said, need to be found “to overcome the problems arising from this market failure.” She said that much ground-breaking activity was underway to harness systems of innovation and IP to meet health needs in the developing world, and that R&D can be “needs driven as well as profit-driven,” adding that “international agreements that govern the global trading system can indeed be shaped in ways that favor health needs of the poor.”
World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General, Pascal Lamy, also underlined the need for effective international partnerships. He said that “coherence, cooperation and practical dialogue within the international system” were indispensable in effectively addressing the interdependent issues of public health, climate change, biodiversity and food security which are international in dimension.   He noted that “climate change will likely have a severe impact on disease patterns and on agriculture: so health, food security and adaptation to climate change are fundamentally interlinked. To retreat behind borders – whether they are national, or formal boundaries between our institutions – is not an option”. 
“The effective use of the IP system and of TRIPS flexibilities is important, but does not stand alone: IP law and policy must be harnessed with drug procurement policies, pro-competition safeguards, and regulation of drugs for safety and quality,” Mr. Lamy said. “Again, no one international agency has a monopoly on these diverse areas of expertise, and the challenge of ensuring practical access to medicines requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary effort.” 
Speaking on the role of IP in sustainable agriculture, Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said that while agricultural research had delivered great results in terms of increasing yields, and reducing poverty and hunger, there is an urgent need for “an open debate on the elements, tools and limits of intellectual property protection in the agricultural sector, and the need to reconcile the commercial interests of the IPR holders with public concerns”. 
Mr. Nwanze said that intellectual property played a key role in creating a fertile environment for the development of sustainable agriculture and spoke of the need to strengthen the development of new forms of cooperation between the public and private sectors to promote pro-poor innovations. He said protecting patenting and global public goods research supported by strategic public-private partnerships “can serve as catalysts for sustainable agricultural growth, without undermining access and more equitable benefit-sharing arrangements.” 
Mr. Santa Cruz will report back to WIPO member states on the outcome of the conference.
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