The Third Access to Knowledge (A2K3) Conference

December 2008

Organized by ten international partners, the Third Access to Knowledge (A2K3) Conference, held in Geneva from September 8 to 10, attracted over 400 participants – and many more to its blog ( Below, Mr. Sisule F. Musungu, President of IQsensato and A2K3 Conference coordinator, provides an overview of the conference objectives, followed by two commentaries from guest speakers – “The A2K Challenge” by Mr.  Maximiliano Santa Cruz from the Permanent Mission of Chile to the United Nations in Geneva and “A2K and the WIPO Development Agenda” by Mr. Ahmed Abdel Latif, IP Program Manager at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (


By Sisule F. Musungu

The A2K3 Conference, building on two earlier conferences, presented and discussed new research, ideas and findings on access to knowledge (A2K) and took stock of progress in advancing A2K goals in international fora ranging from WIPO to United Nations (UN) human rights bodies. 

Key objectives included:

  • to advance the thinking on the conceptual framework for A2K;
  • to present new analyses, information and findings including country case studies;
  • to assess progress in implementation and discuss strategies for advancing A2K initiatives and mandates in international fora and processes such as the WIPO Development Agenda;
  • to present specific success stories in technology and business; and
  • to continue mobilizing academia, civil society, governments and the private sector around A2K issues.

Topics ranged from the broad, including the relationship between A2K and issues such as trade, human rights, the knowledge gap and the WIPO Development Agenda, to the more specific, such as copyright limitations and exceptions, prizes as alternatives to IP rights-based monopolies, media and communication rights through to practical, open business strategies and technologies of access.

Geneva offered an ideal venue to attract new participants to the A2K discussions and to relate A2K ideals to concrete policy and business concerns, taking discussions outside the academic sphere. The broader audience targeted by the Conference included government officials (especially those involved in the areas of IP, human rights and trade negotiation);  officials from key international organizations, such as WIPO, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); civil society representatives;  academics and researchers, particularly from developing countries; and industry representatives.

The event was organized jointly by the Information Society Project at Yale Law School (Yale ISP), Electronic Information for Libraries (, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Center for Technology and Society at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) School of Law, Rio de Janeiro, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), IQsensato, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), UNU-MERIT and 3D ->Trade - Human Rights - Equitable Economy.

The A2K Challenge

By Maximiliano Santa Cruz

Though A2K did figure on the agenda of the WTO just four years ago, through the movement on access to medicines, it was barely mentioned at WIPO and was a rather marginal issue at  the WHO.  That has changed over the last few years. A2K now has a strong influence in intergovernmental processes at WIPO, the WTO and the WHO.  What happened? Perhaps policymakers started to note that the balance in the IP system had tilted heavily to one side.  The system no longer fulfilled its dual goal: not only bringing benefits to inventors and creators but also to society in general.  While some saw upward harmonization as the only possibility, proponents of A2K suggested a more horizontal approach in which everybody would gain from increased access to knowledge, collaboration, and new and complementary models of innovation.

The WHO saw its IP activity increase with the extensive Report of the Commission on IPRs, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH) and with the adoption in May 2008 of the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and IP.  Among other things, the Global Strategy aims to promote research and development through greater public access to knowledge by creating open databases and compound libraries; to support open licensing of inventions and know-how; to consider the use of research exceptions; to encourage discussions for an essential health and biomedical research treaty; and to develop access to and transfer of key health technologies through patent pools, the use of flexibilities and the use of databases to determine patent status.

But the biggest shift has been in WIPO.  The WIPO General Assembly in 2007 made the landmark decision to create the Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) and to adopt 45 recommendations under the WIPO Development Agenda, in order to mainstream the development dimension into all the Organization’s activities, several of which are strongly linked to A2K issues.  It includes recommendations to deepen analysis of the implications and benefits of the public domain; to initiate discussions on how to further facilitate A2K and technology transfer; to prepare guidelines to identify itemswhich are in the public domain; and to promote pro-competitive licensing practices to foster creativity, innovation and the transfer of technology.  One of its most important challenges: to change the way we perceive IP, to analyze its complexity from different angles and consider the unintended consequences of certain policies.

It is important to note that issues related to A2K are not alien to the WIPO permanent committees. Following a proposal by Chile in 2004, the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) took on the task of discussing exceptions and limitations to copyright, particularly for libraries and educational purposes and for persons with disabilities.  WIPO has commissioned several expert studies on those issues (see page 25).  Preliminary studies on exceptions and limitations, dissemination of patent information and technological standards – issues strongly linked to A2K – are also under preparation within the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP).

A2K and the WIPO Development Agenda

By Ahmed Abdel Latif

The ICTSD steered the panel which examined challenges facing WIPO in implementing the A2K-related issues in the WIPO Development Agenda recommendations, described above by Mr. Santa Cruz.  Several panelists emphasized that the WIPO Development Agenda offered an opportunity to place the notion of the public domain at the center of the IP debate. Mrs. Teresa Hackett, Program Manager, eIFL-IP, called for WIPO to hold a global meeting as well as to undertake a study in this area.

Dr. Uma Suthersanen, Queen Mary College, University of London, proposed the creation of an international register of public domain matter. Developing countries and LDCs would be able to rely on it to boost their indigenous innovation, as innovation and creativity also depend, to a large extent, on viable access to public domain sources.

Mr. Richard Owens, Director, Copyright E-Commerce, Technology & Management Division, WIPO, pointed to a number of suggestions for possible future work in this area such as addressing problems related to the identification of public domain material as well as the preparation of a major study which could include a comparative analysis of legislative approaches to defining public domain subject matter and a survey of tools for identifying and accessing public domain material.

Mr. Dominique Foray, Chair of Economics and Management of Innovation, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), focused on low-income countries, as their ability to benefit from foreign direct investment is limited by weak absorptive capacities.  He underlined the importance of promoting local innovation in these countries by addressing local needs through “specialized innovation systems generated at the micro-level,” and emphasized the importance of taking this into account in the implementation of the Development Agenda.

The A2K3 conference reflected the participants’ keen interest in WIPO’s work, particularly in the context of the Development Agenda, the implementation phase of which requires the active contribution and participation of WIPO and its stakeholders, particularly Member States and civil society organizations.

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