Francis Gurry led WIPO as Director General from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2020.

Intellectual Property and Public Policy Issues

September 2009

Climate change, food security, access to medical technology and healthcare were on the agenda at WIPO’s international Conference on Intellectual Property and Public Policy Issues, held on July 13 and 14 in Geneva. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry noted that the pressing nature of the challenges presented by these issues as well as the evolution of technology involve IP in public policy as never before. WIPO must engage in these issues in new ways, he added, and use that engagement to inform policy development so that the creative process serves the needs of all countries, developed and developing alike.

The Conference attracted over 400 participants and 30 speakers, including the heads of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Discussion centered on the IP dimensions of climate change, public health, biodiversity and food security. It also highlighted WIPO’s role as the multilateral forum where the challenge of using IP to drive innovation, creativity and transfer of technology is balanced with that of ensuring that the IP system produces social and economic benefit for all. Dialogue and collaboration between major stakeholders – international organizations, government, industry and civil society – are necessary to address these questions, and WIPO is the best-positioned and most appropriate venue to host and advance such discussions.

The Conference, held on the recommendation of WIPO’s Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP), represented progress toward WIPO’s strategic goal of ensuring that the Organization is at the center of global policy debates on IP.

The key: international cooperation

A presentation on climate change issues by keynote speaker, U.K. Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, David Lammy, was among the highlights of the Conference. Mr. Lammy underlined the critical importance of the IP system in delivering a global solution providing for the widespread diffusion and transfer of climate change mitigating technologies, particularly to developing and least developed countries. All countries, rich and poor, he said, are suffering from the consequences of climate change. Mr. Lammy underscored that resolving the technology transfer issue was the key to the successful outcome of climate change negotiations.

Similarly, WMO Director General Michel Jarraud emphasized the importance of global cooperation and information-sharing in order to meet the challenges created by global warming, and that “intellectual property must be a catalyst, not an obstacle” to a successful global response.

During a panel discussion on July 14, the Directors General of WHO, Margaret Chan, and WTO, Pascal Lamy, also stressed the need for international cooperation. Dr. Chan called for “strong collaborative action” among international organizations to address questions relating to public health, trade and IP. 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,” said Dr. Chan.

Further incentives, Dr. Chan continued, 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. Research and development, she stressed, 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.”

Mr. Lamy said that “coherence, cooperation and practical dialogue within the international system” were indispensable to address effectively the interdependent issues of public health, climate change, biodiversity and food security, all of which are global 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.

Regarding food security, IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze noted, “We urgently need 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 also recognized that “WIPO, which also deals with issues related to patent harmonization, counterfeit and the protection of farmers’ traditional knowledge” is the appropriate forum to host these debates.

Summarizing the Conference, SCP Chairman Maximiliano Santa Cruz from Chile 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.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Gurry said the Conference had “deepened the dialogue” on these important issues and 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 “is supposed to produce social and economic benefit, which is best perceived in areas where we face, as an international community, global challenges.”

By Thomas Bombelles,Global Challenges Division, WIPO


Seal the Deal

Mr. David Lammy, along with the heads of five international organizations, dipped the “People’s Seal” in ink and added his stamp to the “Seal the Deal” petition. (Photo: WIPO/S. Shamoon)

IFAD’s Kanayo F. Nwanze, WHO’s Margaret Chan, WIPO’s Francis Gurry, WMO’s Michel Jarraud, WTO’s Pascal Lamy, and the U.K. Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property David Lammy joined an international campaign to galvanize public support for a successful outcome to UN-sponsored climate change negotiations by signing a global petition addressed to world leaders in the sidelines of the IP and Public Policy Issues conference.

The “Seal the Deal” global petition will be presented to world leaders at the meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December. The petition will serve as a reminder that world leaders must negotiate a fair, balanced and effective agreement in Copenhagen, and that they must seal a deal to power green growth, protect the planet and build a more sustainable, prosperous global economy that will benefit all nations and peoples.

In a separate statement in support of the campaign, Mr. Gurry said, “the power of human ingenuity is our best hope for restoring the delicate balance between ourselves and our environment. It is our greatest asset in finding solutions to this global challenge, enabling us to move forward from the carbon-based, grey technologies of the past to the carbon-neutral, green innovation of the future. That is why WIPO is supporting the Seal the Deal Campaign. We encourage all governments to work together to seal the deal on a fair, balanced and effective climate agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009.”


Next article: IP Challenges in Meeting the Needs of Visually Impaired Persons

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