TRIPS COUNCIL MOVES SLOWLY ON REVIEW OF LIFE PATENTING EXEMPTION
Meeting on 17 February, the TRIPs Council once again turned its attention to the review of Article 27.3 (b) of the Agreement on Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which allows certain plant and animal inventions to be exempt from patent protection. (See also BRIDGES Between Trade and Sustainable Development, Vol. 2, No. 8, p. 3).
The approach to the issue within the TRIPs Council continues to focus on "information-gathering," and input so far has almost exclusively consisted of replies to a list of questions on how plant and animal inventions are handled in domestic laws. Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, the EU and several of its members, Hungary, Japan, the U.S. and Zambia have so far submitted this information. Several other Members, as well as FAO and the secretariat of the CBD have said that they will also submit information. The WTO secretariat is expected to prepare a summary of the responses received for the next meeting of the TRIPs Council, in April.
Despite the gentle pace of the review so far, it is well known that proponents of removing all exeptions to patenting requirements (U.S. and European industry for instance), and supporters of extending the exeption to all life forms are lurking in the wings prepared to push their point of view forwards. Some observers believe that the 1999 review will consist solely of the information-gathering exercise underway, with negotiation of the real issues carried over into the round of trade negotiations due to be launched at the Third WTO Ministerial at the end of this year.
The TRIPs Council last week also discussed other subjects including: geographical indications, "non-violation" complaints, how countries are applying the "mailbox" and exclusive marketing rights provisions of the TRIPs Agreeement (Arts. 70.8 and 70.9), and incentives for technology transfer to least developed countries as required under Article 66.2 of the Agreement. The TRIPs Council also elected its new Chair for 1999: Ambassador Carlos Pérez del Castillo of Uruguay thus replaces Hungary's Ambasador, István Major.
"TRIPS Council 17 February 1999 - US, Japan submit proposal on geographical indications," WTO BACKGROUND NOTE, 22 Feb. 1999; ICTSD Internal Files.