September 30, 2004 3:00 am

Development needs 'override intellectual property protection'

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Five hundred scientists, academics, legal experts and consumer advocates, including two Nobel laureates, called yesterday for a change of course at the World Intellectual Property Organisation to put development concerns ahead of stronger intellectual property rights.

The signatories of the so-called Geneva declaration on the future of Wipo include Sir John Sulston, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for medicine, and Burton Richter, the 1976 physics laureate. The declaration also has the support of development groups such as Oxfam and ActionAid.

"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," it says.

The declaration was launched ahead of a debate today at Wipo's annual assembly on a proposal by Brazil and Argentina for a Wipo "development agenda".

Their proposal includes the negotiation of a Wipo treaty to promote developing-country access to knowledge and technology, and work on how collaborative information-sharing mechanisms - exemplified by the worldwide web and the human genome project - can stimulate innovation.

Although the two members have support from developing countries in Latin America and Africa, the proposal is opposed by industrialised nations, which argue that Wipo is already responding to development needs.

Wipo was established in 1967 to promote intellectual property protection but in 1974, when it became a United Nations agency, the organisation's mission was expanded to include "appropriate action to promote creative intellectual activity" and the facilitation of technology transfer to poor countries.

However, supporters of a "development agenda" claim that, under pressure from industrialised nations, Wipo continues to give undue weight to strengthening intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks and copyright, at the expense of the public interest and other means of fostering innovation and creativity.

Developing countries complain that excessive intellectual property protection denies them access to new technologies and research findings, while many scientists and researchers argue that stringent intellectual property rights threaten to become a drag on scientific and cultural advance. www.wipo.org

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