Conference Addresses Evolving Nature of Digital Landscape

Geneva, September 19, 2001
Press Releases PR/2001/285

The Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Dr. Kamil Idris, opened the Organization's Second International Conference on Electronic Commerce and Intellectual Property by noting the evolving nature of the digital environment. While recognizing that connectivity was still available to relatively few, speakers at the opening session underlined the huge potential of the Internet for development and wealth creation for all peoples.

"Two years ago, our Conference gathered here to talk about the meaning of electronic commerce for the intellectual property system - today, we meet again, to learn how its implications have changed, and are likely to develop in the future. Some talk about a digital 'revolution'. I prefer instead to talk about its evolution," Dr. Idris told the participants. He said the emergence of digital technologies, most notably the Internet, has brought pioneering changes to the social, cultural and economic framework in which we live. Linking this to the Organization's mandate, he said "There is a parallel evolution taking place in the field of intellectual property - as the traditional intellectual property system adjusts to the new ways brought about by recent technological change." The result of these incremental changes, he noted, is the emergence of both "opportunities as well as challenges to those who create, distribute and consume works of intellectual property in the global market place."

Addressing the digital divide, Dr. Idris said "We are also well aware that the Internet is not yet truly the "global" medium it has the potential to be. Although the online population has grown to 460 million users this year, only about 6% of the world's population is currently online," the Director General observed. He pledged, however, WIPO's commitment to help redress this imbalance. "Our commitment is, within the scope of our mandate, to help bring all peoples online and to realize the wealth of potential that is offered by the digital media." He said one step towards reaching that goal is the WIPONET project, which aims to provide online services to 320 intellectual property offices in 177 member states.

The Director General emphasized the universal nature of the Internet, while at the same time stating the need to ensure respect for cultural diversity. "The Internet is a universal medium, and it calls for approaches that reflect that universality, so as to encourage and support the continued growth of electronic commerce, taking into account that the member states of WIPO represent a wealth of nationals and cultural heritage." Finland's Minister of Education and Culture, Ms. Suvi Lindén, echoed this by saying that electronic trade in intellectual property ensures a universal access to artistic and cultural products. She stressed "It is vital to bear in mind that the commodity protected by intellectual property rights which is sold and bought on the net is very much the product of culture. Culture generates creativity, individualism and identity, which are all needed for innovation and new product development."

Ms. Lindén outlined the link between electronic commerce and intellectual property. She said "Intellectual property - that is, intellectual capital - consists of rights. Electronic commerce of digital content is trade in rights; what we sell and buy are rights to use and otherwise exploit material delivered electronically in the form of bits." She said protection of intellectual property was crucial to stimulating creativity, protecting investments and recognizing the moral interests of creators and inventors. The Minister said "The growth of electronic closely linked with the fundamental importance of intellectual property."

The Finnish Minister reiterated a fundamental prerequisite for electronic commerce to flourish. She said "A safe and reliable environment is a precondition for widespread electronic commerce. The fact is that we all - all the states, communities and individuals in the world - hold the key to the future development of the Internet as a market place. Electronic commerce involves global problems, for which we have to find global solutions." Ms. Lindén said the evolving nature of the Internet and its potential to become an effective market place "requires that governments and the private sector are able to find and implement the proper combination of regulatory, contractual and technological measures affecting e-commerce and information networks."

On the digital divide, Ms. Lindén said global development of e-commerce entails the involvement of all countries in the world. "In the digital era no one is excluded or unattainable," she observed. The Minister said no time should be wasted in bridging the digital gap and that policies of governments and businesses should take into account each country's unique cultural and economic characteristics.

Mr. Robert E. Kahn, President of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) said the Internet continues to witness a remarkable evolution. Mr. Kahn, one of the pioneers who developed the Internet, said he had no doubt this experience would continue and perhaps accelerate in the coming years. He said the burst of the dot com bubble came as a result of ill-conceived expectations by some seeking to make a quick profit. In spite of this, Mr. Kahn noted, the Internet remains "viable and strong." Mr. Kahn, like several other American speakers, was unable to fly to Geneva for the conference owing to last week's tragic events in the United States, but spoke through a videotape.

The three day gathering has brought together some 500 representatives from industry, governments and the general public to discuss recent and future commercial and technological developments in e-commerce and their impact on the intellectual property system. Participants will examine the principal impact of e-commerce on the intellectual property system, and will cover issues including creation, ownership, identity and governance on the Internet. Focus will be on music, films and publishing on-line, domain names, business methods patents, branding, rights management systems, privacy, digital cultural heritage, and the influence of new information technologies on intellectual property service delivery.

A live audio webcast of the conference is accessible at

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