Antony Taubman: The focus will fall increasingly on empirical analysis, on more clearly defined technical issues, and on finding practical, workable solutions that deliver actual public welfare gains in these areas

Our interview with Antony Taubman, Acting Director and Head of the Global Intellectual Property Issues Division of World Intellectual Property Organization is about his opinions for the passed year and his optimistic expectations about the new 2008.

How would you estimate the passing 2007 year? Was it successful for the WIPO and particularly for your Department?

2007 was a very important year for us – a time of consolidation, strengthening linkages and building core materials to support what Member States want to achieve in the area of IP and traditional knowledge (TK), traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) and genetic resources, and regarding IP in the life sciences. There were no headline-grabbing outcomes, but rather a fruition of long-standing projects and a maturation of understanding of core issues and pressing practical needs. For instance, the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee commenced the first systematic, open, structured multilateral review of the core issues that any policymaker would need to address when crafting protection mechanisms for TK and TCEs – in view of the technical complexity of these issues, we cannot expect that consensus would quickly or easily be achieved among 184 Member States. But there is a much stronger conceptual, factual and practical foundation for future work, which means that future outcomes – which may be achieved in the coming biennium – would have stronger, deeper roots and would be far more likely to achieve in practice the ambitious goals many Member States have set in this area.

What were the main challenges that you had to overcome in your work during this year?

These issues remain technically demanding, politically complex and in need of extensive consultation with many stakeholders, ranging from indigenous communities in many parts of the world to our sister agencies and colleagues within the United Nations family. The central challenge remains ensuring that processes are as inclusive and consultative as possible, while still focused on practical, workable goals that are consistent with WIPO’s particular responsibility internationally relating to IP law and policy. Initiatives such as the WIPO Voluntary Fund have shown that considerable progress can be made in promoting an open inclusive dialogue, and WIPO’s stepped up efforts on practical capacity building also ensure that goals remain achievable and realistic, and our activities remain meaningful for their intended beneficiaries.

Which event from the 2007 could you point out as the most significant one? Why?

Two events: WIPO’s round table on community capacity building in the field of TK, TCEs and GR – this provided a tangible step forward in consolidating, better communicating, and coordinating WIPO’s work in this area, to provide a solid platform for future cooperation; and WIPO’s cooperation with the WHO on public health issues, particularly in the framework of WHO meetings on IP and public health and pandemic flu preparedness, which has opened a valuable new chapter in the partnership between these organizations, with a focus on WIPO providing what technical and practical information is most useful for WHO policymakers who need to take key decisions on public health issues, drawing on the best available information WIPO can help deliver,

Could we expect new activities and services from the WIPO during the forthcoming year?

Yes – there will be a consolidated framework for policy development and grass-roots practical capacity building in the area of TK, TCEs and genetic resources; there will be better legal resources to assist governments and other stakeholders in assessing policy options and undertaking legislative initiatives in this area; patent landscaping activities in the life sciences will produce clearer, more accessible guidance for policymakers concerned with public health, food and the environment; several established projects will reach a mature stage, including the Creative Heritage project on best practice guidelines for IP issues in the digitization of TCEs and the toolkit project to support communities in defending their interests during documentation of TK; and issues papers will increasingly assist policymakers in working through the tangle of IP law and policy questions provoked by advances in the life sciences.

What are your personal expectations for 2008?

I expect to see greater understanding of the full public policy context of the intellectual property system in such cutting-edge areas as traditional knowledge and public health. The focus will fall increasingly on empirical analysis, on more clearly defined technical issues, and on finding practical, workable solutions that deliver actual public welfare gains in these areas.