Monday, December 07, 2009

My keynote at and some thoughts about WIPO

I'm the lucky beneficiary of some unexpected space in my diary today due to a last minute cancellation of a meeting, so I've finally got around sticking the slides from my WIPO keynote a couple of weeks ago up on Slideshare (embedded below).

I said at the time that I discovered some amazingly talented and dedicated people working within WIPO and likewise amongst their tutors from around the world. In the thick of all the complex politics and bureaucracy of the UN, these people have a really deep understanding of the issues and the importance of balance in international IP policy; and it was really interesting to hear, from the inside, of the energy underpinning the development agenda.

I should also thank Altaye Tedla and Caroline Storan at the WIPO academy who were very hospitable and do a tremendous job supporting 26,000 students all round the world.

Amongst the highlights of the workshop for me, in addition to the obvious opportunity to discuss IP policy with some deeply thoughtful and very well informed professionals from all across the globe - spanning the whole spectrum from IP expansionists to IP reductionists -  were Esteban Burrone's talk on evolving developments on the WIPO development agenda and Anotole Krattiger's session on the IP Handbook of Best Practices.

One of the biggest problems faced by the WIPO academy, their tutors and students is the issue of lack of access to educational resources:
  • Teaching resources
  • Case studies
  • Articles
  • Books
  • Teaching activities
  • Region/jurisdiction specific resources/tools
  • Library resources
  • Online databases
  • Primary legal materials
The WIPO academy produces generic courses which are taught globally but then the tutors struggle to get access to resources to be able to tailor the materials to the specific needs of their students across a wide range of jurisdictions for example.  Although they are working hard to find some compromise the WIPO library can't facilitate tutors' access to resources, as we do for our tutors at the Open University, because of copyright law and licensing restrictions, since the tutors and students are resident in so many different areas.

The irony of WIPO's mission to educate people about intellectual property being hindered by the state of copyright law and publishers' licensing restrictions was quite stark.

So it was good to learn, therefore, of a new, rich, open IP resource which I hadn't previously been aware of, the IP Handbook of Best Practices, which was released under a creative commons attribution share alike licence.  It's a terrific piece of work put together by Professor Krattiger with the help of over 200 experts and I'd encourage you to go and explore the website which is really well organised - not just restricted to the handbook but providing links to other publicly available materials such as IP database and search tools too.

Prof. Krattiger is very much the pragmatist, believing whatever the state of affairs in the battle between IP expansionists and reductionists and whatever the prevailing wind on the state of balance in the system, we have to make it work through making deals in the marketplace. If the rules don't suit you, draw up a contract that does and start negotiating hard, is his primary advice - we need to stop worrying about IP regulations and start focussing on IP management.  He advocates a high standard of ethical behaviour and professionalism in licencing neogtiations, particularly important in the agriculture and health sectors he has specialised in for many years.  Ethical stewartship of intellectual property is really important in the management of our knowledge commons.  Presumably the thinking is that with a wide portfolio of working deals in the market then the regulations will follow on.

I couldn't agree more that we need ethical stewartship of IP but I'm not sure there is a lot of evidence for this in the IP marketplace, which tends to be amoral.  I don't necessarily share Prof Krattiger's optimism that the intellectual property landscape will be rebalanced equitably through the market but we did agree on one aspect of the confusion surrounding patents.  Very often in public discussions about patents two things get confused
  • access and
  • incentive to innovate
He believes that if we disentangle the strategies for access to Aids drugs in Africa, for example, from strategies to encourage innovations in the development of further improved Aids treatments, we will make more progress, on access and development of improved drugs, much more quickly.  The system has not prevented the development of treatments - there are AIDs drugs but the problem in poorer countries is the lack of access to these drugs that could help the condition of millions of Aids sufferers.

It is a general feature of public debates on intellectual property that crucial and separate issues get confused in this way, sometimes deliberately to shape the agenda and sometimes through simple confusion.  But as long as the intellectual property regulations themselves continue to hinder access to knowledge in this and other areas, and the debate continues to get framed and disproportionately influenced by commercial institutions and lobbyists with a vested interest in particular outcomes, then the confusion is not going to get cleared up any time soon.

Thanks again to Altaye Tedla, Caroline Storan, Glyn Martin and Mrs Gao Hang for their hospitality and all the work they put into making the workshop such a success; and thanks to all the delegates for making an outsider so welcome (and for all your positive feedback).

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