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Archived updates for Monday, February 14, 2005

Developed Countries Move Patent Harmonization Talks Outside WIPO

According to a report from Intellectual Property Watch on February 12, 2005, participants at the invite-only meeting on patent harmonization earlier this month in Washington agreed to hold meetings of two working groups, one on substantive patent law harmonisation – chaired by Australia – and the other on development issues, covering proposals at WIPO on development and on genetic resources – chaired jointly by the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The chairs volunteered and were not opposed, one participant said.

No substantive harmonisation issues were discussed at the first Washington gathering, which was “solely an initial organising meeting,� according to the USPTO spokeswoman. Differences in patent regimes to be addressed later include the United States’ system of patenting based on “first to invent� versus the rest of the world’s method of “first to file,� and the length of the grace period given to inventors before making inventions public, according to industry sources.

The group also agreed to consider a “trilateral� proposal put forward last fall by the United States, Japan, Europe to create a new work plan on these issues. That proposal said the subject has been debated mostly ineffectively for 20 years, and that the current approach is “not workable,� with the draft treaty bogged down by political issues that lead to “protracted debate.� The proposal called for beginning with issues on which consensus might be obtainable, focused on aspects of determining “prior art� in patent applications. It also stressed that gains in these areas would benefit all countries.

The effort led by the United States to move the debate outside WIPO has raised alarm for some developing nations who fear the meetings are intended to pressure them and WIPO to trim development objectives from the negotiations. In fact, many developing countries view efforts to negotiate a substantive patent law treaty as an attempt by developed countries to “export their patent systems to other parts of the world,� one developing country official said. They also fear it would undermine the flexibility countries have under the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to pursue their own policy goals, the official said, adding that that flexibility is reaffirmed by the Doha Declaration on TRIPs and public health.

“The allegation that the exploratory meeting is meant as a threat to WIPO and to developing counties is simply not true,� a USPTO spokeswoman said this week. “Other WIPO Groups, such as the Latin American group, Asian group, African group, meet regularly to coordinate positions. The exploratory meeting was just that - a meeting of Group B [developed] countries to discuss how to best make progress on issues in WIPO.�

The full group will reportedly meet again in June, presumably just prior to the next WIPO meetings. Subgroup meetings will be held between March and May, with anyone from the full group is invited to participate in the subgroup meetings, the chairs said. The list of participants at the Washington meeting included Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, European Commission, European Patent Office, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.
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