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

Ambassador Chak Mun See (Singapore)
83. The representative of Australia wished to express his delegation's eagerness to see a rich substantive discussion in the Council concerning geographical indication protection and hoped that, by saying so, this might help dispel a slight misunderstanding that had developed. Australia was not questioning, in its paper concerning the review under Article 24.2, the value of geographical indication protection, but wondered whether the balance struck in various jurisdictions was necessarily the best way to achieve such protection. Referring to the notion of "absolute protection" used in the joint paper introduced by Switzerland, he believed that one should be cautious in applying absolute protection to any form of intellectual property. Australia was suggesting through its discussion paper that the rather simplistic pasting of the words "everything made by man under the sun" into Article 23 would not necessarily in itself confer any significant economic or trade benefits and that there should be a strong focus on the need for a look at the practical reality of geographical indication protection. In that regard, he wished to clarify that it was his delegation's understanding that Article 24.1 provided a basis for negotiations on eliminating balancing exceptions to geographical indication protection as applied in accordance with the exceptions provisions of Article 24, for example exceptions based on prior use in good faith, use of generic descriptive terms or pre-existing trademarks. It concerned negotiations along these issues in relation to geographical indications already protected under Article 23. Not that his delegation believed that this was a palatable prospect, because it seemed to concern a process that threatened the balance of interests and, in some instances, the fair use of the English language in his country. If delegations were to consider that Article 24.1 in fact covered the re-writing of Article 23.1, to introduce new product lines, he would suggest that, in the context of forthcoming informal consultations, one would look at individual geographical indications, because it was unquestionable that Article 24.1 was about individual geographical indications rather than about product classes or industrial sectors. It might be helpful, before one did consider the exact nature of this mandate, to consider the individual geographical indications that were of interest or concern. In that context, one might also consider how these were protected in existing systems or find out if some of them were, in some jurisdictions, regarded as not being geographical indications at all. Referring again to the joint paper introduced by Switzerland, he said that there seemed to be some lack of clarity. If this Council was indeed mandated to undertake negotiations on product extension, it seemed to be unclear whether that mandate was intended to fall under Article 24.1 or 24.2. From his delegation's point of view, this underscored the need for greater clarity of the nature of geographical indication protection. 84. Continuing, he wished to clarify that it was not his delegation's intention to suggest that discussions under Article 24.1 should begin after terminating the review under Article 24.2, nor had he suggested any other prioritization in terms of timing. Australia had been engaged in negotiations under Article 24.1 on a bilateral basis and intensively since the TRIPS Agreement had come into effect. All that his delegation had been suggesting in terms of an effective organization of the Council's work had been that any outcome on how to go about Article 24.1 would serve the interests of Members better if it would involve a more informed process and an extraordinarily good source of information would be the review under Article 24.2. Thus, genuinely enhanced protection of geographical indications might be achieved and unexpected disappointments could be avoided. It would also be useful if the Council would get an update from WIPO concerning the practical issues that were currently being addressed in the context of the Lisbon Agreement with a view to improving the multilateral registration system under that Agreement. It was important for the Council's work under Article 23.4 to get such an update, now that the only existing analog internationally was undergoing some form of review building on experience gained in its operation. Finally, he expressed support for the suggestion made by the European Communities for a stand-alone informal session of the Council to look in-depth at geographical indication issues and recalled his delegation's earlier suggestion that these issues might be of sufficient importance for the Council to consider the establishment of a subsidiary body in accordance with Article IV of the WTO Agreement.