India moves to restructure IPR issues

Kamal Nath dashes letters to 31 countries

By Ruksan Bose
Published: Thursday 15 September 2005

-- union minister of commerce and industry Kamal Nath sent out a letter on July 25, 2005, to trade ministers of 31 countries, urging them to take a "sharper and more aggressive" stand on getting through an amendment to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement (trips) of the World Trade Organisation (wto). "The issues have a strong bearing on large sections of poor people...who are holders of traditional knowledge," the minister noted. Experts believe the move is significant as it will help streamline wto negotiations on assimilating the provisions of trips and the Convention on Biological Diversity (cbd), a separate multilateral pact, to protect traditional knowledge and biodiversity in developing nations. "This letter is important because it will make negotiations at the wto more focussed and time-bound...Unlike for agriculture, discussions on these issues have till now been an open-ended, academic exercise. This should get a larger constitution together to push for an actual decision," says Biswajit Dhar of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi.

For the last four years, biodiversity-rich countries have been making submissions to wto on the relation between cbd and trips but the debate hasn't been resolved. Typically, developed countries benefit from the wealth of traditional knowledge and biodiversity of developing countries. cbd recognises the sovereign rights of states over their biological resources but trips treats intellectual property as a private right. "We need to form a common position before the Hongkong meeting," urges Nath's letter, referring to the crucial round of talks in December 2005.

Some biodiversity-rich countries want that instead of repeatedly spending money to get illegal patents revoked, a system should be evolved to filter patents relating to biological materials or traditional knowledge before they are filed. The source and country of origin of the resource or knowledge must be revealed and evidence of prior informed consent provided, along with evidence of fair and equitable sharing of benefits. Developed countries, like the us, where most patents are filed, are opposed to this. India also wants an international instrument that recognises national-level protection.

Experts feel there is more space for applying for an amendment to trips now that India has enforced it. There is also a clause for countries to do this in light of their experiences in implementing trips, making their arguments much less 'hypothetical'.

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