The World Trade Organisation's (WTO) now infamous
1999 review of the exemptions from intellectual property protection
for certain plant and animal inventions (Trade-Related Intellectual
Property Rights [TRIPS] Article 27.3b) is now underway - in theory,
at least. Progress is painfully slow, with the Quad countries
(the European Union [EU], USA, Japan and Canada) trying to turn
the review into simply an assessment of hiw implementation is going
December 1998, p 20).
Some WTO representatives and observers are increasingly
talking about the Review merely "starting" this year (using
the excuse that Art 27.3b doesn't state when the Review should end!).
Quad members, in particular, are stalling to avoid having to do
any real negotiating until after the next Ministerial Conference,
the highest WTO body, at the end of the year. The widely differing
positions of member countries regarding Article 27.3b makes for
some challenging negotiating. The industrialised North, led
by the US, would like to have no exemptions to patentability, while
many countries in the South would prefer to ban biodiversity from
TRIPS. Yet neither North or South is united enough to achieve these
Although action is sluggish at the TRIPS Council,
other IPR arenas are very active at the moment. Both the World
Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the International
Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) could
undermine any equitable treatment of biodiversity issues in TRIPS.
UPOV recently organised seminars to push African and Asian countries
towards the UPOV-style of sui generis plant protection. If
this move is successful, a first step in the TRIPS Review could
be forcing UPOV or similar standards on all WTO members. And
it seems that UPOV's lobbying efforts are being quite fruitful:
Francophone African countries are talking about joining the UPOV
91 agreement en masse in the near future.
If UPOV successfully muscles in, the only unresolved
problem for the formal intellectual property system would be how
to protect community and indigenous knowledge and inventions.
WIPO has become very active on this issue through its new programme
to extend IPRs to "new beneficiaries" (see Seedling,
September 1998, p 2), such as indigenous peoples and local farming
communities. WIPO plans two meetings in Geneva this year, one on
intellectual property and indigenous peoples (August 2-3), and the
other on biotechnology and the Biodiversity Convention (November
Some key dates to watch for on the WTO scene in
* Council meetings (Geneva) : April 27-28, July
7-8, Sept 15-16, Nov 23-24
* C'tee on Trade and Envt: March 24-25, April
22-23, June 29-30, October 12-13
* WTO Ministerial Conference (Seattle, US): November
30 - December 3
http://www.wipo.org; personal communications.