29 November 2005

Poorest countries given more time to apply intellectual property rules

Least-developed countries have been given an extension until 1 July 2013 to provide protection for trademarks, copyright, patents and other intellectual property under the WTO’s agreement, following a decision reached by member governments on 29 November 2005.

The decision by the WTO’s Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) extends the transition period for least-developed countries by seven and a half years, and includes commitments on technical assistance to help them prepare to apply the agreement. The transition period was due to expire on 1 January 2006, 11 years after the TRIPS Agreement came into force.

The decision does not affect the transition period for patents for pharmaceutical products, which was agreed in 2002; least-developed countries will not have to protect these patents until 2016.

“This agreement, coming just before the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference, is good news,” WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said. “Members have shown that they are ready to ensure that the world’s poorest countries have the flexibility that they need in order to meet their WTO obligations in a way that serves their development needs. This demonstrates what can be achieved in Hong Kong where development is a central issue.”

The decision (see below) says least-developed countries will not have to provide the intellectual property protection covered by the TRIPS Agreement until 1 July 2013 unless they graduate from being least-developed. However — as is currently the case — if they voluntarily provide intellectual property protection, they have to observe TRIPS provisions on non-discrimination.

In the discussions leading up to the decision, one of the questions raised was whether the extension should be given country by country. The final agreement gives the extension to all the least-developed countries as a group. It confirms these countries’ right to seek further extensions afterwards. At present, 32 WTO members are least-developed.

The decision also reiterates developed countries’ commitment to provide technical and financial cooperation to help the least-developed countries implement the TRIPS Agreement and respond to needs that the least-developed countries have promised to identify, preferrably over the next two years.

Where least-developed countries do voluntarily provide some kinds of intellectual property protection even though they are not required to do so under the TRIPS Agreement, they have promised not to reduce or withdraw the current protection that they give.

The decision was agreed by consensus among all members, as is standard practice in the WTO.

Find out more on the WTO website:
> Least-developed countries


[ Text of decision ]
Decision of the Council for TRIPS of 29 November 2005

The Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the “Council for TRIPS”),

Having regard to paragraph 1 of Article 66 of the TRIPS Agreement (the “Agreement”);

Recalling that, unless extended, the transition period granted to least-developed country Members under Article 66.1 of the Agreement will expire on 1 January 2006;

Having regard to the request from least-developed country Members of the World Trade Organization (the “WTO”), dated 13 October 2005, for an extension of their transition period under Article 66.1 of the Agreement contained in document IP/C/W/457;

Recognizing the special needs and requirements of least-developed country Members, the economic, financial and administrative constraints that they continue to face, and their need for flexibility to create a viable technological base;

Recognizing the continuing needs of least-developed country Members for technical and financial cooperation so as to enable them to realize the cultural, social, technological and other developmental objectives of intellectual property protection;

Decides as follows:


Extension of the transition period under Article 66.1 of the Agreement
for least-developed country Members

1.   Least-developed country Members shall not be required to apply the provisions of the Agreement, other than Articles 3, 4 and 5, until 1 July 2013, or until such a date on which they cease to be a least-developed country Member, whichever date is earlier.

Enhanced technical cooperation for least-developed country Members

2.   With a view to facilitating targeted technical and financial cooperation programmes, all the least-developed country Members will provide to the Council for TRIPS, preferably by 1 January 2008, as much information as possible on their individual priority needs for technical and financial cooperation in order to assist them taking steps necessary to implement the TRIPS Agreement.

3.   Developed country Members shall provide technical and financial cooperation in favour of least-developed country Members in accordance with Article 67 of the Agreement in order to effectively address the needs identified in accordance with paragraph 2.

4.   In order to assist least-developed country Members to draw up the information to be presented in accordance with paragraph 2, and with a view to making technical assistance and capacity building as effective and operational as possible, the WTO shall seek to enhance its cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization and with other relevant international organizations.

General provisions

5.   Least-developed country Members will ensure that any changes in their laws, regulations and practice made during the additional transitional period do not result in a lesser degree of consistency with the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement.

6.   This Decision is without prejudice to the Decision of the Council for TRIPS of 27 June 2002 on “Extension of the Transition Period under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement for Least Developed Country Members for Certain Obligations with respect to Pharmaceutical Products” (IP/C/25), and to the right of least-developed country Members to seek further extensions of the period provided for in paragraph 1 of Article 66 of the Agreement.