Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and status of current World Trade Organization negotiations
Status of the negotiations
Ministers were not able to address the issues related to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) before negotiations ended in an impasse during the Geneva mini-Ministerial held on July 21-28, 2008. Work conducted by senior officials failed to generate consensus to bridge the gaps between Members on the three outstanding implementation issues under the TRIPS Agreement (i.e. register for wine and spirit geographical indications (GI), GI extension and the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity). Negotiations on the register (the only one of the three implementation issues for which there are mandated negotiations), continue on the basis of Member state proposals. The ninth Session of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference will be held in 2013.
Canada has been actively engaged in formal and informal processes at the WTO, both at the technical level and the senior officials’ level. Canada supports a proposal for a voluntary, facilitative, low-cost register for wine and spirit GI which is the only intellectual property issue for which there is a negotiating mandate. However, Canada believes that more work needs to be done on the two other implementation issues, namely GI extension and the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity prior to any decisions being made on potential negotiations. In the past, the European Community, Switzerland and many developing countries (approximately a total of 110) have attempted to link all three issues as one single undertaking. Canada and other like-minded countries (e.g. the United States, Australia) opposed negotiations that would link the three implementation issues, two of which are not covered by a mandate.WTO issues
- TRIPS and Public Health
- Geographical Indications
- Patentability of Higher Life Forms
- TRIPS and the Convention on Biological Diversity
- Non-Violation Complaints
The emphasis on innovation as a measure of global competitiveness has made the international dimension of intellectual property rights increasingly important. The Uruguay Round of trade negotiations saw the creation of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights the TRIPS Agreement), in an attempt to protect these rights.
The TRIPS Agreement established a minimum level of protection that WTO Members were required to provide to the intellectual property of other Members. It covers such areas as copyrights, trademarks, patents, geographical indications (GI), industrial and layout designs, and undisclosed information (trade secrets). Protection of intellectual property rights as such was meant to encourage innovation and design in the long term. Intellectual property issues are also part of the negotiating mandate of the WTO Doha Round of trade negotiations (launched in November 2001). The Doha mandate calls on Members to “interpret the TRIPS Agreement in a manner supportive of public health,” and to “negotiate the establishment of a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits.” There are also two other outstanding implementation issues, namely the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the extension of the level of GI protection currently afforded to wines and spirits under the TRIPS Agreement to a broad range of products (agricultural and non-agricultural alike). There is a debate on whether these two issues should currently be negotiated.
At the Doha Conference, Members had also released a separate Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health, and following the Conference negotiations in the newly established TRIPS Council were focused on this aspect. The August 30, 2003 Decision, unanimously agreed to by all WTO Members, was an early outcome of the Doha Round. By waiving certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement (Article 31 (f) and (h)), the decision permits those WTO Members with pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, subject to certain terms and conditions, to manufacture and export lower-cost versions of patented medicines to countries who are unable to produce their own and are experiencing a health crisis.
In the lead up to the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in December, 2005, focussed work was undertaken on the issues of geographical indications and the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Three sets of proposals were made during this time on the nature and scope of a register for geographical indications and whether enhanced protection should be extended to include more than just wines and spirits. Separate discussions were also held on the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
At the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference, Members agreed to intensify the TRIPS negotiations on the multilateral register for wines and spirits and continued to debate the particulars of the two outstanding implementation issues for which there is no mandate. WTO Members also unanimously agreed to transform the 2003 Waiver on TRIPS and Public Health into a permanent amendment of the TRIPS Agreement via a Protocol. The Protocol is open for Member acceptance until December 31, 2009. The Amendment will enter into force after two-thirds of the WTO membership have accepted the Protocol.
Negotiations in all areas were suspended in July 2006 but were re-launched in January 2007. Throughout 2007, consultations on geographical indications and the Convention on Biological Diversity were undertaken, but no real progress was made. In July 2008, the European Community, Switzerland and most developing countries (approximately a total of 110) called for a decision to officially launch negotiations on outstanding implementation issues related to geographical indications and the relationship between the TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Divergence between Members on how to deal with the TRIPS-related issues persists mainly as a result of disagreement over the nature of the Doha mandate. The Ninth Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference will be held in 2013.
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