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14 June 2001

WIPO and WTO launch new initiative to help world's poorest countries

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and World Trade Organization (WTO) have launched a new initiative today, 14 June 2001, to help least-developed countries maximise the benefits of intellectual property protection.

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At the ceremony held today to mark the launch, Dr. Kamil Idris, Director General of WIPO, stated that this joint initiative was simply an expression of commitment to least-developed countries. From integration to participation, then to give these countries national ownership of intellectual property protection, he stressed, was crucial in assisting these countries. He also emphasized that intellectual property was a tool for technological advancement, economic growth and wealth creation for all nations, especially for least-developed countries.

Least-developed countries have until 1 January 2006 to comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). They have to bring their laws on copyright, patents, trademarks and other areas of intellectual property into line with the TRIPS Agreement. They also have to provide ways of enforcing the laws effectively, in order to deal with piracy, counterfeiting and other forms of intellectual property infringement. 

“The implementation of these obligations also represents an opportunity for the world's poorest nations to harness intellectual property in order to accelerate their economic, social, and cultural development,” said WTO Director-General Mike Moore. “Our joint initiative, which offers varied forms of technical assistance, will help least-developed countries promote their developmental objectives.” 

Ambassadors representing least-developed countries welcomed the initiative as further evidence that both organizations are increasingly committed to helping the world's poorest countries. 

The joint initiative builds on existing cooperation between WIPO and WTO and on each organization's own technical assistance programmes. It is also similar to a joint WIPO-WTO project launched in 1998 to help all developing countries, particularly those that are not least developed, which had to comply with the TRIPS Agreement by 2000. 

The technical assistance available under the joint initiative includes cooperation with preparing legislation, training, institution-building, modernizing intellectual property systems and enforcement. Of the 49 countries defined by the UN as least developed, 30 are members of the WTO (another six are negotiating WTO membership) and 41 are members of WIPO. All least-developed countries can participate in the technical assistance offered; they do not need to be WIPO or WTO members. 

The joint initiative envisages assistance in two phases. 

  • In the first phase, two regional workshops will be organized in 2002, one for sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti, and the other for the Asia-Pacific region. Officials from these countries will be briefed on the basic concepts, principles and obligations of the TRIPS Agreement. They will also be briefed on the challenges of implementing the agreement. 
  • In the second phase, assistance provided will focus on action plans specific to individual countries. 

Least-developed countries need a considerable amount of assistance in intellectual property. This new initiative will ensure the most effective use of available resources. It will also ensure technical assistance activities are efficiently planned and closely coordinated between the two organizations. 

At today's launching ceremony, which also involved representatives from least-developed countries, the two Directors-General signed a joint communication to go to all least-developed countries' governments, informing them of the joint initiative and inviting active participation. The communication underscores the two organizations' commitment to help least-developed countries comply with the TRIPS Agreement on time and to use the intellectual property system to promote their development. 

This press release is being issued simultaneously by WIPO and WTO.

Background Notes

WIPO has 177 member States. It is based in Geneva and is responsible for all matters related to intellectual property, including the promotion of intellectual property protection around the world. It oversees various international conventions, of which the Paris Convention on the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works are the two founding international conventions in the area of intellectual property. 

WTO has 141  members (in May 2001). It is based in Geneva and is the international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. It does this by administering multilateral trade agreements, acting as a forum for trade negotiations and settling trade disputes. 

The TRIPS Agreement entered into force on 1 January 1995 at the same time as the WTO came into being. It was one of the outcomes of the Uruguay Round. The agreement specifies minimum standards of protection for each of the main categories of intellectual property, building on the main WIPO conventions. The agreement also deals with the effective enforcement of intellectual property rights. Under the TRIPS Agreement, developed countries had to comply with its provisions by 1 January 1996; developing countries were given an extra four years, until 1 January 2000; least-developed countries are required to comply by 1 January 2006 (with the possibility of an extension).