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Consortium For Common Food Names Objects To Precedent Set In Intellectual Property Talks

Washington—The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) is objecting to a plan by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to allow approval of an intellectual property (IP) agreement to take place behind closed doors, without the full participation by all WIPO
members who may be impacted by the decision.

CCFN is urging WIPO members to protest in advance of, and during, a critical meeting next week, and to request that all WIPO members be permitted to participate fully in an upcoming diplomatic conference.

WIPO is the global forum for intellectual property policy, services, information and cooperation. WIPO assists its 187 member countries in developing a balanced international IP legal framework to meet society’s evolving needs. It provides business services for obtaining IP rights in multiple countries and resolving disputes.

According to the CCFN, the specific issue at hand, which will be debated by a WIPO working group next week in Geneva, Switzerland, concerns the renegotiation of the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appelations of Origin. The draft under consideration would greatly expand the agreement’s reach and impact.

The forthcoming recommendations by the working group are slated to be ratified at a planned diplomatic conference next year, CCFN noted.
Currently, only the countries who are signed on to the Lisbon Agreement — about 30 nations, the majority from Europe — can fully participate in that diplomatic conference.

This exclusive approach would fly in the face of longstand ing WIPO precedent on how to handle contentious IP issues, the CCFN said. Many IP issues are hotly debated at the global level given different interests of countries in these discussions on topics such as patents and copyrights.

WIPO’s foundation for success has stemmed from its ability to bring together constructive debate and compromise on international IP agreements, taking the interests of all members into account during that process, the CCFN explained.

“Here we clearly have a contentious issue that impacts global IP interests, but for some reason that successful protocol is not being followed. This would be a terrible precedent to set,” said Jaime Castaneda, the CCFN’s executive director. “We fear that it may be countries that face the most challenges that would end up on the short end of the stick if this type of precedent is established for dealing with other IP issues on which countries’ views sharply differ.”

The problem, Castaneda said, is that “the whole process is subject to amendment and approval only by the members of that subcommittee, even though the results potentially impact the rights of all WIPO members in how they name and market foods in global trade.”

This closed door approach “upends a long-standing, positive practice of permitting open and full participation in diplomatic conferences.

Member nations need to speak up now to tell WIPO that this is an absolutely unacceptable precedent to establish,” he added.

CCFN is urging WIPO members to voice their objections at the Lisbon Working Group meeting next week, and also to voice concern to the WIPO secretariat that full participation of World Intellectual Property Organization members in the upcoming diplomatic conference should be assured, just as in any other IP debate.

“Countries that sit on the sidelines at this critical time may find WIPO proposing to permit the next diplomatic conference of interest to them to be held in a similar ‘insiders-only’ manner,” Castaneda said.

“Permitting the Lisbon diplomatic conference to move forward without full and equal participation for all WIPO members is a very risky move for countries that care about the principle of ensuring that all have a say in the development of international IP policies.”

The proposal under debate, which would greatly expand the Lisbon Agreement system for GIs, could severely impede the global use of common names for many cheeses, meats, beverages and other foods, across many more countries, according to the CCFN. This would put at greater risk the markets developed by many small food producers in developing countries and throughout the world.

The Consortium for Common Food Names, the US government, and officials from Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and Uruguay, among other countries, have all voiced concerns about permitting the expansion of the Lisbon Agreement in the manner proposed.

In addition to the procedural precedent concerns this approach poses, common complaints have also included that the proposal risks violating existing World Trade Organization commitments and imposing significant economic costs on many nations.