Minutes - TRIPS Council - View details of the intervention/statement

Ambassador Karen Tan (Singapore)
World Trade Organization
213. The representative of the Secretariat said that the background note on "Timeliness and Completeness of Notification and Other Information Flows" represented the combination of a great deal of hard work on the part of his colleagues in the Secretariat over many years in planning and managing a major documentation effort and in undertaking the sheer hard work of processing, editing, checking, and distributing material submitted by Members in pursuance of the transparency mechanisms established by the Council under the TRIPS Agreement. It also represented a massive amount of work on the part of the notifying Members in compiling and submitting the information. 214. To give a sense of the scale of this work, he said that the notification of laws and related measures had been a major undertaking, currently resulting in around 6,500 documents on line, each one containing unique and practically valuable information and covering all aspects of IP law and its implementation and enforcement. This, at a rough estimate, amounted to over 150,000 pages of useful information about the laws and related measures of Members. A good proportion of this material was still in paper form, in hard copy only, reflecting the limited use of information technology in the initial stages of the notification processes, which had begun almost 14 years previously. 215. The Council's review of Members' laws had yielded some 800 additional documents, providing a detailed record of the dialogue in the Council, which was in itself a unique multilateral process for establishing greater understanding about the IP laws and policies of Members; again, this material involved a huge amount of hard work on the part of delegations, capital based officials and the Secretariat. He added that, against this background of a major investment of resources and profusion of valuable data, it was timely to consider how best to manage the material and to use it for its intended purpose, namely to enhance understanding and to promote transparency. 216. The current factual background note had been prepared at the request of the TRIPS Council at its meeting in June, which request in turn stemmed from the General Council Chair's letter to the TRIPS Council Chair inviting the latter to consult with Members on ways of improving the timeliness and completeness of notifications and other information flows. Aiming to provide information to this end, the note firstly summarized the relevant procedures (with references to relevant decisions); secondly gave information on the use of these procedures by Members; and lastly offered suggestions as to how to improve the transparency and user friendliness of the notification system. 217. He explained that, to fulfil the first point (summarizing relevant procedures), the document provided a factual outline of the notification and related requirements, including the mechanisms within TRIPS itself and those mechanisms subsequently decided upon by the Council. The document covered the two areas already mentioned – notification of laws and the TRIPS Council review of these laws – and also set out the full range of notification requirements and processes which had yielded valuable practical information in these specialized fields, which included certain technical aspects of the protection of copyright and related rights, application of the national and MFN treatment principles, protection of state emblems, contact points in Members, and specific surveys undertaken by the Council itself in the context of various review processes. 218. To fulfil the second element (information on the use of these procedures by Members), the document summarized the use of the notification system so far by Members. In particular, Annex 2 of the document provided a table giving the date of the initial notifications received, i.e. the first batch of laws received under the system, and the dates of any subsequent updates received. These included amendments to existing legislation as well as new items of legislation. The document observed that the status of initial notifications was good: overall 126 Members had notified implementing legislation in an initial notification and 99 Members had responded to the checklist on enforcement which was established by the Council to enable notification of enforcement measures. He said that Members' practices and experiences regarding updates or subsequent amendments to legislation had differed somewhat, as illustrated by Annex 2. Some Members had been more active than others in updating their notifications. 219. Turning to the third aspect of the Council's request (suggestions on transparency and user friendliness), he said that TRIPS Article 63.2 itself already recognized that steps should be taken to reduce the burden of notification procedures on Members and this had in turn guided the Council's work in this area, including by the development of a cooperative relationship with WIPO, as had also been foreseen in the TRIPS Agreement. The paper identified three specific areas in which to explore practical improvements with the aim of ensuring that the operation of the system would promote the timeliness and comprehensiveness of information and would make it more user friendly. These three areas were the following: firstly, the submission and input of data; secondly, the output and accessibility of information from the notifications; and lastly, the practical management of data, including facilitating the existing practical linkage with WIPO. 220. Regarding the input of information, he said that, broadly speaking, it should be possible to make it easier for Members to prepare and submit relevant material; as a practical matter, the Council should help to identify more efficient ways of preparing and submitting texts, without prejudice to the existing rights and options available to Members. He explained that, in practice, notified texts and materials were received in a wide range of formats, some of which, perhaps unwittingly, could create some months of work for the Secretariat to edit, revise and repackage the material in order to make it suitable for distribution through the WTO system. Material was also received in a wide range of media, including from paper copies of official gazettes through to data on USB data keys. He added that any developing country Member seeking assistance in preparing material for notification could seek technical assistance as they required. 221. He then turned to the output of information, i.e. how to make the information more practically accessible, more useful for its intended purpose and less burdensome to consult and to use in practice. He said that there were well over 120,000, possibly 150,000 pages of material, some of it still only available in paper form. Ways should be considered for practically enhancing on line access to that material; it should however be recognized that the existing forms of dissemination, including on paper, might still be more appropriate for many potential users. Furthermore, care had to be taken not to alter the status, character or content of the information. A simple example of steps taken to improve access had been the process of scanning the backlog of legal texts, rendering them into digital form where previously they had only been available in paper form, and which had therefore been relatively difficult to access for many potential users. 222. Lastly, regarding the practical management of information between the input and the output sides, he said that the aim would be to use information technology to reduce delays, to facilitate the flow of information and to comply with the WIPO WTO cooperation agreement to provide this information in a timely and practically useable fashion. He hoped that, in this way, resources could be freed up to pay more attention to the information needs identified by the WTO's partners in technical cooperation work, especially the needs expressed by developing countries as the WTO was seeking to improve, tailor and focus its development cooperation activities. 223. A unique aspect of the notifications under the TRIPS Agreement was that the Agreement itself foresaw cooperation with the WTO sister agency, WIPO, and indeed the two Organizations had signed a bilateral agreement in 1995, one key aspect of which was cooperation on the administration and making available of notification of laws and regulations. While this cooperation had been systematic and fruitful, the sheer bulk of material had at times put pressure on the WTO system. Advances in information technology now meant that it was timely to look at ways of improving the information flows and simplifying the sheer practical management of this information. The fact that WIPO was currently overhauling its own legislative database made it especially timely to explore ways of improving this linkage and thus reducing the burden on users of the system and on WTO Members in particular. 224. Finally, he wished to stress that any practical steps that might be taken to improve the management of this vast quantity of information would be undertaken within the existing framework of the TRIPS Agreement and the decisions already taken. The systems that had been put in place were robust and well established, and had already been used by the great majority of Members. The task was simply to look at practical ways of managing the immense collection of data – around 150,000 pages – so that the material did not pile up on the shelves and desks of those hoping to use it, as a literal physical burden on Members, but would be developed into a workable and accessible information service within the existing framework already well defined by the TRIPS Agreement and the subsequent decisions of the Council, which had been reported and summarized in this document.