140. The representative of the Secretariat said that the Secretariat was continuing to circulate base documents for notifications of laws and regulations both in hard copy and electronic form, but the actual texts of these laws and regulations contained in sub-series of documents would only be circulated in electronic form on the Documents Online database. This procedure responded to the feedback from users that the routine circulation of hard copies of texts of laws and regulations did not, on the whole, facilitate access to these materials. To the contrary, feedback from users had showed that, overwhelmingly, the first point of access was the on-line version of the document, not separate collections of hard copies.
141. More generally, on transparency and user-friendliness of the notification system, the work of the Secretariat remained guided by the directions in the letter from the Chairman of the General Council and the background note IP/C/W/543. The core objective of the work on timeliness and completeness of notifications and other information flows had continued to be the goal of making that material available in a more user-friendly way, and thus to make it more straightforward for Members to prepare and submit their notifications, in short to reduce the burden on Members. This had included both the documentary burden on Members to fulfil their notification obligations and making it easier to consult the information in a way that corresponded more directly with the actual needs of stakeholders.
142. Considerable expense was involved in processing some of the notification materials, making this area particularly relevant when considering the recommendations for savings and more efficient use of resources in the area of documentation recently made by the budget committee and adopted by the General Council. Some of the notification series had represented the most extensive and thus costly materials to work with, both in their preparation and in their handling, distribution and translation. The on-going work aimed to improve practical document management within the parameters already set by the Council's own decisions and the TRIPS Agreement and it continued to follow directly the outline set out in document IP/C/W/543.
143. The Secretariat had reviewed and developed an overview of the body of existing notifications, a collection of over 15 years' worth of heterogeneous documents, of immense potential practical use, but at the same time presenting a major information management challenge. There had been three main phases: the initial notifications of developed countries in 1996; the initial notifications of developing countries in the early 2000s; and a more recent increase in activity corresponding to accessions and regular revisions and updates of IP laws. The forthcoming accessions were likely to produce still more material. These notifications were still held in a range of different formats but work was under way to ensure that all documents were available in text-searchable form on line. Once the range of materials was fully available in digital form, it would be appropriate to consider how to use relevant information technology tools to improve the usability and the accessibility of those data to reduce wasteful and expensive paper-based approaches, where appropriate. In addition, improved accessibility and usability of data would ensure that it could contribute to the broader effort across the Secretariat towards a more integrated holistic approach to managing notifications and other trade policy information, including the Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal (I-TIP), announced at the margins of the December 2011 Ministerial Conference.
144. The next step was therefore to consider how to provide more user-friendly web tools for accessing and using the information contained in notifications, building on the pilot work already reported to the Council. Consideration should further be given to making use of such tools as the common portal established with WIPO for the submission of legislative texts and exploring further cooperation along those lines, given the overlapping responsibilities between the WTO and WIPO that had been recognized in the TRIPS Agreement itself.
145. Other avenues that could be explored in the area of practical document management, rather than determining new notification approaches, might include (i) facilitating the submission of texts for regular notifications, other than legislative texts, through a notification tool; and (ii) a continued focus on suggested standard notification formats to facilitate both the preparation of notification materials and their handling and dissemination. The Secretariat would seek to consult with delegates and other users of that information through informal workshops and technical assistance activities and aimed to develop appropriate tools that correspond to the actual needs of actual stakeholders, particularly delegations.
146. Notification materials were now routinely being used to inform the Secretariat's technical cooperation activities, in response to the demand from Members for information at a very practical level and in a factual way about the approaches taken by Members in relation to various areas of IP law and policy. Further technical assistance activities would concentrate on more effective use of notification processes, so as to advance the objectives set out by the General Council concerning the timeliness and completeness of notifications under the Agreement as well as user-friendly access to and use of those materials.