Geneva Declaration on the Future of the World Intellectual Property Organization

2004-09-28 00:00:00

Humanity faces a global crisis in the governance of
knowledge, technology and culture. The crisis is manifest
in many ways.

- Without access to essential medicines, millions suffer
and die;

- Morally repugnant inequality of access to education,
knowledge and technology undermines development and
social cohesion;

- Anticompetitive practices in the knowledge economy impose
enormous costs on consumers and retard innovation;

- Authors, artists and inventors face mounting barriers to
follow-on innovation;

- Concentrated ownership and control of knowledge,
technology, biological resources and culture harm
development, diversity and democratic institutions;

- Technological measures designed to enforce intellectual
property rights in digital environments threaten core
exceptions in copyright laws for disabled persons,
libraries, educators, authors and consumers, and
undermine privacy and freedom;

- Key mechanisms to compensate and support creative
individuals and communities are unfair to both creative
persons and consumers;

- Private interests misappropriate social and public goods,
and lock up the public domain.

At the same time, there are astoundingly promising innovations
in information, medical and other essential technologies, as
well as in social movements and business models. We are
witnessing highly successful campaigns for access to drugs for
AIDS, scientific journals, genomic information and other
databases, and hundreds of innovative collaborative efforts to
create public goods, including the Internet, the World Wide Web,
Wikipedia, the Creative Commons, GNU Linux and other free and
open software projects, as well as distance education tools and
medical research tools. Technologies such as Google now provide
tens of millions with powerful tools to find information.
Alternative compensation systems have been proposed to expand
access and interest in cultural works, while providing both
artists and consumers with efficient and fair systems for
compensation. There is renewed interest in compensatory
liability rules, innovation prizes, or competitive
intermediators, as models for economic incentives for science
and technology that can facilitate sequential follow-on
innovation and avoid monopolist abuses. In 2001, the World
Trade Organization (WTO) declared that member countries should
"promote access to medicines for all."

Humanity stands at a crossroads - a fork in our moral code
and a test of our ability to adapt and grow. Will we
evaluate, learn and profit from the best of these new ideas
and opportunities, or will we respond to the most
unimaginative pleas to suppress all of this in favor of
intellectually weak, ideologically rigid, and sometimes
brutally unfair and inefficient policies? Much will depend
upon the future direction of the World Intellectual
Property Organization (WIPO), a global body setting
standards that regulate the production, distribution and
use of knowledge.

A 1967 Convention sought to encourage creative activity by
establishing WIPO to promote the protection of intellectual
property. The mission was expanded in 1974, when WIPO became
part of the United Nations, under an agreement that asked WIPO
to take "appropriate action to promote creative intellectual
activity," and facilitate the transfer of technology to
developing countries, "in order to accelerate economic, social
and cultural development."

As an intergovernmental organization, however, WIPO
embraced a culture of creating and expanding monopoly
privileges, often without regard to consequences. The
continuous expansion of these privileges and their
enforcement mechanisms has led to grave social and economic
costs, and has hampered and threatened other important
systems of creativity and innovation. WIPO needs to enable
its members to understand the real economic and social
consequences of excessive intellectual property
protections, and the importance of striking a balance
between the public domain and competition on the one hand,
and the realm of property rights on the other. The mantras
that "more is better" or "that less is never good" are
disingenuous and dangerous -- and have greatly compromised
the standing of WIPO, especially among experts in
intellectual property policy. WIPO must change.

We do not ask that WIPO abandon efforts to promote the
appropriate protection of intellectual property, or abandon
all efforts to harmonize or improve these laws. But we
insist that WIPO to work from the broader framework
described in the 1974 agreement with the UN, and to take a
more balanced and realistic view of the social benefits and
costs of intellectual property rights as a tool, but not
the only tool, for supporting creativity intellectual

WIPO must also express a more balanced view of the relative
benefits of harmonization and diversity, and seek to impose
global conformity only when it truly benefits all of
humanity. A "one size fits all" approach that embraces the
highest levels of intellectual property protection for
everyone leads to unjust and burdensome outcomes for
countries that are struggling to meet the most basic needs
of their citizens.

The WIPO General Assembly has now been asked to establish a
development agenda. The initial proposal, first put forth by
the governments of Argentina and Brazil, would profoundly
refashion the WIPO agenda toward development and new approaches
to support innovation and creativity. This is a long overdue
and much needed first step toward a new WIPO mission and work
program. It is not perfect. The WIPO Convention should
formally recognize the need to take into account the
"development needs of its Member States, particularly developing
countries and least-developed countries," as has been proposed,
but this does not go far enough. Some have argued that the WIPO
should only "promote the protection of intellectual property,"
and not consider, any policies that roll back intellectual
property claims or protect and enhance the public domain. This
limiting view stifles critical thinking. Better expressions of
the mission can be found, including the requirement in the 1974
UN/WIPO agreement that WIPO "promote creative intellectual
activity and facilitate the transfer of technology related to
industrial property." The functions of WIPO should not only be
to promote "efficient protection" and "harmonization" of
intellectual property laws, but to formally embrace the notions
of balance, appropriateness and the stimulation of both
competitive and collaborative models of creative activity within
national, regional and transnational systems of innovation.

The proposal for a development agenda has created the first real
opportunity to debate the future of WIPO. It is not only an
agenda for developing countries. It is an agenda for everyone,
North and South. It must move forward. All nations and people
must join and expand the debate on the future of WIPO.

There must be a moratorium on new treaties and harmonization of
standards that expand and strengthen monopolies and further
restrict access to knowledge. For generations WIPO has
responded primarily to the narrow concerns of powerful
publishers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, plant breeders and
other commercial interests. Recently, WIPO has become more open
to civil society and public interest groups, and this openness
is welcome. But WIPO must now address the substantive concerns
of these groups, such as the protection of consumer rights and
human rights. Long-neglected concerns of the poor, the sick,
the visually impaired and others must be given priority.

The proposed development agenda points in the right direction.
By stopping efforts to adopt new treaties on substantive patent
law, broadcasters rights and databases, WIPO will create space
to address far more urgent needs.

The proposals for the creation of standing committees and
working groups on technology transfer and development are
welcome. WIPO should also consider the creation of one or more
bodies to systematically address the control of anticompetitive
practices and the protection of consumer rights.

We support the call for a Treaty on Access to Knowledge and
Technology. The Standing Committee on Patents and the Standing
Committee on Copyright and Related Rights should solicit views
from member countries and the public on elements of such a

The WIPO technical assistance programs must be fundamentally
reformed. Developing countries must have the tools to implement
the WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, and "use,
to the full" the flexibilities in the TRIPS to "promote access
to medicines for all." WIPO must help developing countries
address the limitations and exceptions in patent and copyright
laws that are essential for fairness, development and
innovation. If the WIPO Secretariat cannot understand the
concerns and represent the interests of the poor, the entire
technical assistance program should be moved to an independent
body that is accountable to developing countries.

Enormous differences in bargaining power lead to unfair outcomes
between creative individuals and communities (both modern and
traditional) and the commercial entities that sell culture and
knowledge goods. WIPO must honor and support creative
individuals and communities by investigating the nature of
relevant unfair business practices, and promote best practice
models and reforms that protect creative individuals and
communities in these situations, consistent with norms of the
relevant communities.

Delegations representing the WIPO member states and the WIPO
Secretariat have been asked to choose a future. We want a
change of direction, new priorities, and better outcomes for
humanity. We cannot wait for another generation. It is time to
seize the moment and move forward.