WIPO CDIP/6: Moving the glacier

Progress sometimes comes very gently. Last week’s session of the WIPO committee in charge of implementing the Development Agenda (CDIP) was a case in point.

As in previous sessions, a lot of the discussion still revolved around procedural issues. Member states are battling over the question of how much power the committee should have, and again failed to agree during this round of negotiations.

Yet there was also some substantial work done, with a few new studies commissioned and progress in some studies that are already underway. Believe it or not, but the mere fact that these studies exist is progress already. Where WIPO used to be single-mindedly drive the rightsholder perspective, the organisation is now making an effort to look outward and get an idea of the reality that it is legislating upon.

That’s not to say that those studies are perfect. During last week’s meeting, member states adopted a project to study “open collaborative projects”. The proposal focuses on activities that are essentially just R&D outsourcing, all but ignoring Free Software. We pointed this out in a written submission to the committee and highlighted the issue with several member states, who took a keen interest. Unfortunately, our comments and suggestions eventually took a back seat to the procedural wrangling that still dominated much of the sessions.

In conversations with some WIPO staff, there was a palpable interest in making innovative approaches to knowledge management, such as Free Software, a greater part of WIPO’s regular activities. There are a number of people who realise that to stay relevant and truly serve its member states, the organisation will have to learn some new tricks.

While WIPO has some very good in-house expertise on the traditional way of handling these monopolies, they will need advice on more recent ideas and practices. We’ll definitely be there to help, and seize the opportunity to move WIPO a bit closer to becoming the World Intellectual Wealth Organisation we described years ago.

A study (see p.79) on “Intellectual Property, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the Digital Divide and Access to Knowledge” that’s currently underway may turn out to be interesting, though results aren’t due before early 2012.

Yet WIPO clearly still has some way to go. A seminar organised as part of a project on “IP and competition policy” at the end of October not only lacked the perspective of users and consumers. WIPO had also invited none other than Microsoft to present the industry perspective on the interactions of copyright, patents and competition policy. While I won’t deny that the company’s convictions for anticompetitive behaviour in high-profile lawsuits on two continents have given it some relevant experience, inviting them as experts on competition policy is like asking Jack the Ripper for advice on public safety. We pointed this out to member states and the secretariat, and will make sure that the seminar’s results are taken with a rather large pinch of salt.

Overall, this was a good week at WIPO, where the road is alway long and progress happens at a glacial pace. Sure, we’re impatient to see more movement on the organisation’s part. But this is a big wheel, and it turns slowly. Yet some of open, friendly and constructive conversations we had this week would plainly not have happened a few years ago. We’ll stay on the case.