cleared up many misunderstandings both about individual countries' laws and what the WTO's
rules require. In some cases countries realized that their laws or regulations might not
conform, and will amend them.
With much public attention
focusing on disputes in the WTO, the detailed day-to-day work of examining how countries
comply with WTO rules tends to be overlooked. As with the TRIPS Council's review, a large
number of cases that could have been brought to the WTO's dispute settlement proceedings
are resolved before they turn into conflict. This helps to enforce smoothly the rules of
the trading system.
effort with important benefits
Council examined the legislation of about 30 members. These are mainly developed countries
that had to ensure that their laws and practices complied with the TRIPS Agreement on 1
January 1996. (For most rules, developing countries and - under certain conditions -
transition economies are given five years from 1 January 1995 when the agreement came into
force; least developed countries have 11 years.)
these reviews involved a huge effort, both for member countries and the WTO Secretariat,
they yielded important benefits:
||Documents containing records
||Date of council meeting
||No. of questions asked
||No. of pages
|Copyright and related rights
||22-26 Jul 96
indications and industrial designs
||11-15 Nov 96
|Patents, integrated circuits,
trade secrets and anti-competitive practices
||26-30 May 97
||17-21 Nov 97
take greater care when drafting new legislation. The knowledge that a country's
legislation will be the subject of such a detailed review tends to make legal drafters and
policy-makers more careful in examining the changes that are necessary to make the
country's legislation conform with the WTO's rules. WTO members believe that effective
mechanisms for monitoring compliance and for resolving disputes are necessary if
international rules are to be of value.
are cleared up. Because intellectual property laws are complex, countries do not
always fully understand other countries' legislation. For example, concern about a country
apparently failing to conform with the rules is frequently dispelled by the explanation
that the point is tackled by other provisions which the questioning country may have
in existing laws are identified. In a significant number of instances, the country
whose legislation was under review has been willing to accept that it still has further
work to do in order to make its laws conform fully with the WTO's rules. Examples include:
ensuring that nationals of all WTO members receive the treatment required by the TRIPS
Agreement; extending the term of protection of performers' rights to 50 years; protecting
trademarks even when used on dissimilar goods and services; protecting layout-designs of
integrated circuits; ensuring that procedures for enforcing intellectual property rights
against imports of goods that infringe these rights conform with the rules.
in interpretation have been identified. Some of these differences will be discussed
bilaterally. If they are not resolved in that way, they could eventually turn into formal
disputes under the WTO dispute settlement proceedings. In some cases, where countries
believe the TRIPS Agreement is unclear, the differences may be taken up when the agreement
as a whole is reviewed after 2000. In other cases, differences may be considered
commercially insignificant; they would be put aside, at least for the time being.
drafting legislation learn from the reviews. Developing countries and some transition
economies enjoy transition periods which generally last until 2000 (and 2006 for least
developed countries). The reviews give these countries important insights into how their
trading partners are understanding and implementing the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement,
and which aspects appear to be more particularly sensitive. A number of developing members
(Brazil, Hong Kong China, India, Korea and Singapore) asked questions, particularly in
areas where it would be helpful for the preparation of their own implementing legislation.
TRIPS review works
began with countries notifying fellow-members, through the WTO, of their intellectual
property laws which implement the TRIPS agreement. Some 20,000 pages of legislation were
notified, and over 12,000 of these were circulated to all members.
takes the form of a "peer group" examination. The legislation is studied by the
notifying country's trading partners who are entitled to ask questions through the TRIPS
Council. Responses to these questions are provided on the floor of the TRIPS Council and
in writing. An opportunity is given for follow-up questions. Given the magnitude of the
task, the review was divided into four subject areas (see table), each requiring a
of each review, the questions put and the responses given, are distributed in a separate
document for each country reviewed and for each area.
gradually being made available to the public, after derestriction which normally takes
about six months. See footnote 1
meetings of the TRIPS Council, members can follow up on any points they feel need further
clarification or discussion.
still free to raise follow-up issues at future meetings of the TRIPS Council. The Council
has scheduled for May next year, the completion of the reviews of five members who joined
the 1996/97 review exercise too late. In November next year three new WTO members' laws
will also be reviewed.
their transition periods end, it will be the turn of the intellectual property laws of
developing, transition and least developed countries. The numbers of countries involved
will be even larger, and members are discussing whether they should start reviewing ahead
of schedule those countries which are ready before the end of the transition periods and
volunteer to be reviewed.
Footnote: 1 These records can be obtained through
the documents on-line facility on the WTO website on the Internet, address:
http://www.wto.org. They use the document series codes listed in the table