WIPO 1 : Putting concepts into contracts — discussing intellectual property in the twenty-first century

As we were honoured to hear from many expert guest speakers at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the question of intellectual property is one of growing importance, with an apparently endless list of questions that few people have attempted to answer. This year however, a team of twenty delegates strove to come up with resolutions regarding three issues at the forefront of the intellectual property debate: Fighting illegal downloading of protected works; guaranteeing the independence of farmers from seed producers; and preventing and sanctioning corporate espionage. These complicated matters would see two days of riveting debate in our conference room, and three truly ground-breaking resolutions passed.

The first day saw a slow start — the warm, stuffy atmosphere of the room felt heavy, felt like it was slowing everyone down. However, progress soon picked up, with a key theme being balance. How does one check for illegal downloading without looking over everyone’s shoulder in the world? How does one strike the balance between encouraging innovation and protecting individuals from big multi-nationals? How does one control companies that own as much wealth as a small country?

All the delegates left the lobbying session with confidence that the next day would bring answers.

The Russian Federation began proceedings on the second day, proposing a resolution that called for international cooperation in creating new laws that controlled the content that internet service providers (ISPs) could give their customers, rather than targeting consumers. This would allow for greater consumer privacy, winning the support of Consumers International. The resolution also called for new definitions in an online world where change is fast and inevitable, as well as suggesting the creation of a universal paid platform for copyrighted works of art with help from companies like Google. Despite Great Britain’s concerns that ignoring consumer activity could affect this resolution’s power, as well as controversies over the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to circumvent national firewalls, the resolution was passed with a large majority, setting a great atmosphere going into an early lunch.

A resolution was then brought forward by Apple to protect companies against corporate espionage by raising awareness of a company’s weaknesses in security, placing heavy fines on companies that are found to be spying, and creating a program to protect whistleblowers.

Interesting exchanges included a discussion on such fines for companies — after toying with the idea of ad valorem fines, it was Nigeria that brought forward an amendment that would decide the amount on a case-by-case basis. Another notable amendment was the supporting of printing important documents to serve as a redundancy in case of a cyber-attack.

This resolution was passed swiftly, building on the momentum of the afternoon as the delegates shifted their attention toward the final resolution of the day. Nigeria brought forward proposals encouraging research into not only Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) but also bio-ecological seeds (thanks to an amendment proposed by Apple). Another amendment was the creation of a grassroots organisation called Special Treatment for Agriculture and Leading Industrial Negotiations, which would pool farmers’ unions, ensuring fair representation of farmers and their interests when fighting against big multi-nationals such as Bayer-Monsanto, who refused point blank to cooperate in the research into bio-ecological seeds (much to the shock of India) but otherwise encouraged the resolution.

Overall, there was a sense of pride once this final resolution was passed: a pride in expending time and effort, working together to create something worth more than the sum of its parts — a step forward in answering some of the biggest questions surrounding intellectual property.

-Leo

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