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Intellectual property
Council debates call to expand geographical indications protection

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The higher level of protection given to place names used to identify wines and spirits should be expanded to geographical indications identifying other products, a group of WTO members once again told the organization’s intellectual property Council on 21 March.

Another group of countries said the council should concentrate on its current task of setting up a multilateral system for notifying and registering these names and assessing actual implementation of the rules on geographical indications before thinking about extension of product coverage.

Among the other topics discussed in the meeting were:
forthcoming reviews of intellectual property laws in countries which have recently had to implement The WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS),
an on-going debate between Cuba and others and the US over a US law,
the review of the agreement’s provisions on biotechnological inventions and plant varieties,
review of the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement
> “non-violation” complaints under the TRIPS agreement
 
Geographical indications  back to top

Geographical indications are place names, or words closely associated with places, such as “Champagne”, “Scotch”, “Tequila”, and “Roquefort” cheese.

The WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) says geographical indications in general should be protected, at least with a view to avoiding unfair competition and consumers being misled. Place names used to identify wines and spirits are given a higher level protection, i.e. even if consumers are not misled or if using the names does not constitute an act of unfair competition.

Members of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) with Latvia and Estonia (Poland speaking on their behalf) made a strong call for negotiations on geographical indications aimed at expanding the higher level of protection — currently given to wines and spirits — to other products.

They said that if “benchmarks” (i.e. flexible target dates for various stages of the negotiations) are to be set for the talks agriculture and services, then there should be similar benchmarks for negotiations on geographical indications.

They were supported wholly or partly by Turkey, India, Switzerland, Pakistan, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Cuba, and the EU.

Many in this group argued that a mandate to negotiate extending the product coverage exists in the TRIPS agreement (under Article 24). Several complained that after four years of implementing the agreement, there has been no progress either on negotiating a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits (Art 23.4) or on expanding the higher level of protection to other products.

Opposing the call with varying degrees of flexibility were: Argentina, New Zealand, US, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, and Hong Kong China. They said negotiations on geographical indications could not be put on the same level as the mandated negotiations on agriculture and services. They added that any negotiations on extending the scope of the product coverage of Article 23 should wait until the TRIPS Council has finished its review of how member countries are applying the agreement’s provisions on geographical indications.

They also argued that the TRIPS Council should not divert attention away from the current negotiations on setting up a multilateral notification and registration system for geographical indications. They welcomed the EU’s announcement that it would submit a new paper on the subject soon.

The TRIPS Council agreed that its chairperson should start informal consultations on how to continue work in these areas.

Review of national implementing legislation  back to top

The council made further practical arrangements for the 27 countries whose legislation is to be reviewed in June and November this year (these are mainly developing countries which were required to implement the TRIPS Agreement at the beginning of this year). See lists. The chairperson is consulting with delegations on the lists of the 42 countries to be reviewed in 2001.
 
Cuba and EU vs. US on Section 211 of the 1998 US Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act  back to top

This issue has come up in several previous meetings. Cuba complained again that the US’s replies to its questions consisted of texts of laws and court rulings but not an explanation of how the US considers the law to conform with TRIPS. The US argued again that this is all it is required to do under the TRIPS provision that Cuba cited. The EU, which has brought this formally to the WTO’s dispute settlement process, supported Cuba in demanding a proper explanation from the US.
 
Plant and animal inventions (Art 27.3(b))  back to top

This article says plants and animals do not have to be eligible for patenting, except in the following cases. Inventions of micro-organisms have to be eligible for patenting. So do inventions of non-biological and microbiological processes for the production of plants or animals. And plant varieties have to be eligible for protection either by patents, or by an effective system specially created for the purpose (“sui generis”), or a combination of the two. A review of these provisions, as required by the agreement, began in 1999. The council agreed at this meeting that there was a need to continue considering the issues raised in this review. Members were urged to provide additional material, in particular countries that did not yet apply these provisions in 1999.

Most of the discussion was procedural: whether to continue with wide-ranging deliberations or to organize more structured discussions focusing on specific issues that had been raised by various delegations at the council’s meetings in July and October last year (including how to deal with, for example, biodiversity issues and ethical questions of intellectual property protection for life forms).

The council agreed that the chairperson should hold consultations on how to organise work on these issues. This, the council said, should take into account work underway on the issues in other forums (e.g. the World Intellectual Property Organization — WIPO — and the Convention on Biological Diversity — CBD).
 
Review of the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement
back to top

Article 71.1 says the implementation of the agreement must be reviewed five years after it came into existence (i.e. in 2000). The council invited members to submit written suggestions on how to proceed. The chairperson will also consult members informally and report back at the next meeting.
 
Non-violation complaints  back to top

This deals with governments’ ability to bring a dispute to the WTO based on loss of an expected benefit as a result of a member’s actions, even if no agreement or commitment has actually been violated. The item was on the agenda at the request of the EU, which informed the council that in the near future it will submit a communication on the matter to the council.

Note:
Members whose TRIPS legislation is to be reviewed in 2000 and 2001
back to top
To date, the following members have volunteered to be reviewed in the year 2000.

26-30 June 2000 27 November to 1 December 2000
Belize Bahrain
Cyprus Chile
El Salvador Colombia
Hong Kong, China Egypt
Indonesia Estonia
Israel Ghana
Korea Guatemala
Macau Kuwait
Malta Paraguay
Mexico Peru
Poland (areas for which not reviewed in '96-'98) Qatar
Singapore Saint Lucia
Trinidad and Tobago Turkey
  United Arab Emirates

The following members are scheduled for review in 2001
(i.e., those Members to which Article 65.2 or 65.3 applies and which have not yet been reviewed or taken up in the lists above).

Antigua and Barbuda Fiji Pakistan
Argentina Gabon Papua New Guinea
Barbados Grenada Philippines
Bolivia Guyana St. Kitts and Nevis
Botswana Honduras St. Vincent and Grenadines
Brazil India Senegal
Brunei Darussalam Jamaica Sri Lanka
Cameroon Kenya Suriname
Congo Malaysia Swaziland
Costa Rica Mauritius Thailand
C˘te d'Ivoire Morocco Tunisia
Cuba Namibia Uruguay
Dominica Nicaragua Venezuela
Dominican Republic Nigeria Zimbabwe