International Conference to Explore Cutting Edge E-Commerce Issues

Geneva, September 10, 1999
Press Releases PR/1999/181

The multi-billion dollar electronic commerce industry will be the focus of attention of some 700 delegates at a major international conference in Geneva from 14 to 16 September 1999. The International Conference on Electronic Commerce and Intellectual Property, hosted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), will for the first time at an international level address the global implications of electronic commerce, with a focus on intellectual property.

The Conference will be opened by Dr. Kamil Idris, Director General of WIPO, on September 14, 1999. He will be followed by the keynote speaker, US Secretary of Commerce William Daley.

WIPO has convened the meeting to promote a better understanding of the issues involved in electronic commerce and to focus attention on the effects of electronic commerce on intellectual property - and of intellectual property on electronic commerce. Intellectual property rights are of central importance in maintaining a stable and positive environment for the development of electronic commerce, which is rapidly and fundamentally changing the way business is being conducted, in ways previously unforeseen.

In the digital age, the products that are being traded are increasingly intangible - invisible in the `real' world and existing only in the electronic bits and bytes in which they are transmitted across the computer networks - and most of these intangible products and the value they represent are protected as intellectual property. The intellectual property system is essential to create an environment in which rights in intellectual property are respected at a global level, and is therefore of vital importance for technological and social progress in the new millennium.

As the United Nations agency responsible for promoting the protection of intellectual property through international cooperation, and given the complexity and enormous interest in the subject, WIPO wants to include the broadest range of opinions in the effort to define the issues that need to be addressed at an international level.

"We are bringing together key players from this rapidly expanding industry as well as intellectual property experts from around the world to offer an unprecedented opportunity to exchange views," said Dr. Idris on the eve of the Conference. "As an international organization with a unique focus and direct and established links to governments, as well as to the private sector and industry worldwide, we can provide a unique forum to address pressing and economically significant issues in an international setting," he added.

Dr. Idris said "WIPO, an organization that is geared to address global issues, has an established mandate and expertise in intellectual property. The rapidly changing digital environment requires prompt and careful responses at an international level. We are able to provide that forum." The Internet by its nature is a global and borderless medium, with the result that national laws can only have limited application and efficacy. These issues are arising at the international level at the same time, or before, they are addressed at a national level.

Electronic commerce also poses a number of challenges to developing countries, but also many opportunities. For instance, forecasts show that by 2005, Asia-Pacific Internet users would exceed some 375 million and China would surpass the United States to have the most users of the world. The entry barriers for electronic commerce are low. This presents immense opportunities for developing countries as they can avoid the heavy investment required to build an industrial technology infrastructure.

The Conference offers a variety and unique combination of speakers, ranging from government ministers and policy-makers to top executives of industry worldwide as well as senior representatives of public interest groups and non-governmental organizations. From a technological angle, the WIPO Conference brings together global industry leaders, who will hint at the direction of technologies underlying electronic commerce - and at some future developments that may revolutionize global commerce and trade in intellectual property.

The work program is divided into plenary sessions and workshops that will explore the cutting edge issues relating to electronic commerce. The plenary sessions will deal with general themes relating to e-commerce and intellectual property, such as trends in technology development, the business potential of e-commerce, developing countries and e-commerce, the legal aspects of e-commerce, and other policy issues. The workshops will focus on specific issues like:

  • On-line delivery of publications, music, films and software
  • Domain names and trademarks on the Internet
  • Music on-line
  • Electronic rights management
  • Cybersurveillance
  • On-line dispute settlement
  • Liability and on-line service providers
  • Films on-line
  • Security and authentication (encryption & digital signatures)
  • Digital libraries, patent and trademark databases
  • Museums on-line
  • Protection of databases

The workshops have been designed to address issues of immediate relevance to intellectual property rights as well as anticipate areas of future interest. For instance:

  • The controversial issue of music distribution on-line and the implications for copyright will be explored at the Conference. The implications of MP3 (the music compression standard that allows pirated as well as legitimate music to flood the Internet), now the second most popular search term on the Internet, will be looked at in some detail. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the way in which music is made, marketed and distributed, as well as the role of artists, record companies and retailers in the new electronic media.
  • While the technology for transmitting films on line in a general way is still under development, the scope and potential for piracy is immense. The issue of copyright protection in this sense is of extreme importance. This will be the major topic during the workshop on films on-line and digital broadcasting of audio-visual works.
  • While the Internet allows an anonymous and virtual existence, it is paradoxical that identity - largely through the use of trademarks on-line and through domain names - has become more important than ever and will become even more so as consumer trust and electronic commerce come to depend on consumer/business transactions. At the same time, abuse of trademarks on the Internet is of increasing concern to owners of marks and small to medium businesses alike. There has been a significant number of disputes in the `.com' space between mark owners and domain name holders. These issues will be looked at during the Trademarks on the Internet and Identity On-line workshops.
  • The workshop on Museums On-line will explore the potential for exploitation of digital images of museum collections of art and antiquities on-line throughout the world. This could provide developing nations with a unique opportunity to exploit and manage their cultural heritage in a virtual environment.
  • Electronic Rights Management and Cybersurveillance is an increasingly attractive approach to preserving and promoting intellectual property protection on-line and will be addressed here by experts. A new cottage industry has emerged to provide on-line services to intellectual property owners. In addition, procedures utilize increasingly sophisticated technological measures (encryption, digital signatures, watermarking) to ensure that electronic commerce in intellectual property works is controlled and that works are not pirated, morphed or misused by consumers.
  • Liability of On-line Service Providers (ISPs) is an important subject at the international level and subject of intensive discussion, with various initiatives being undertaken by governments around the world. The Conference will facilitate the on-going debate about liability, looking towards a consensus that will allow the global Internet medium to develop to its full potential.
  • A workshop will be dedicated to WIPONET - the global network being established by WIPO to establish dedicated and secure Internet connectivity between the Organization and intellectual property offices in its Member States. The technology will allow two-way traffic of intellectual property applications and intellectual property information. This is an example of a real solution to the challenge of global access and the need for development cooperation in the provision of intellectual property-related services through electronic means.
  • The Internet not only forms the basis for electronic commerce, but also facilitates the efficient resolution of disputes arising out of such transactions. It is increasingly becoming evident that dispute resolution in cyberspace, such as on-line arbitration, offers great potential for commercial, and especially intellectual property-related, disputes arising out of electronic commerce. Issues of importance in this connection will be reviewed at a workshop that will look at questions like: how can the Internet be used to reduce the time and cost of dispute resolution? In which respects does on-line dispute resolution differ from conventional methods? To what extent can the existing legal framework accommodate on-line methods? For which types of disputes is on-line dispute resolution appropriate? Experts from WIPO will also discuss the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center's on-line system, designed for electronic commerce and domain name related disputes. The system, which offers considerable savings of cost and time, will be introduced on the Center's website in the near future.

For further information, see Press Release 211 or please contact the Media Relations and Public Affairs Section at WIPO:

Tel: (+41 22) 338 8161 or 338 95 47

Fax: (+41 22) 338 88 10