10. This update follows the request from the Council in November 2012 for the Secretariat to inform it at its future meetings on enhancements to the Secretariat's services improving the transparency, timeliness, completeness and user-friendliness of the notification system; this builds on the work earlier reviewed by the Council from March 2009 under the agenda item on "Letter from the Chair of the General Council Concerning Ways to Improve the Timeliness and Completeness of Notifications and Other Information Flows". Document IP/C/W/543 of 22 October 2009 continues to serve as the information base for this process, reporting on the state-of-play of notifications at that time and suggesting how to make the system more timely and complete. Regular reports to the Council since then have been supplemented by more informal workshops and consultation sessions with Members.
11. The broad outlines set out in that document remain the guidelines for our work, but it is taking more concrete form now as we move from a review of the administrative procedures to looking for specific IT solutions to update the system generally. Hence the work continues to take an integrated approach to managing the sizeable amount of information associated with notification and reporting processes under the remit of this Council:
• Improving data capture for the wide range of notifications and reports this Council administers;
• modernizing how we manage these diverse data sets as information within the Secretariat, so as to expedite processing and reduce the burden on the documentation system generally; and
• improving and extending the information services provided to Members, principally, and other stakeholders who seek to access WTO information, through forms of presentation and dissemination that are better adapted to the practical needs of users.
12. The general approach remains as reported before: firstly, to remain entirely within the existing framework of notification and reporting standards set out in the TRIPS Agreement and the subsequent decisions of this Council; the focus therefore is to update and streamline the existing arrangements from a practical point of view, rather than to alter or add to the established framework. Secondly, the focus is to enhance the completeness, timeliness and practical accessibility of information provided, while easing the administrative burden for notifying and reporting Members. Thirdly, we have sought to deliver resource savings where possible in areas where documentation costs have been high, while improving the quality and range of services provided, in other words not seeking a trade-off between reduced costs and improved services but rather a positive sum where improved management of the data can also lead to some savings. We have reported before that the TRIPS Council is actually a major user of the documentation services of the Secretariat overall.
13. On data capture, the main efforts comprise:
• Fully digitizing the entire backlog of notified material, particularly converting a large quantity of legal texts (well over 2,000 substantial legal texts remain in image form), so that these are available in text searchable form with basic metadata to enable searching and improved online access;
• maintaining the very successful WIPO-WTO Common Portal launched in 2010 as an optional avenue for Members to notify legal texts for either or both organizations and this has certainly improved the flow of up-to-date submissions; and
• developing similar, optional, online notifying and reporting tools for a wider range of TRIPS-related notifications, which would enable simpler input by Members and help capture data notified in a more workable and consistent format, rather than the highly diverse and often incompatible formats that have been used in the past.
14. This process has identified some suggestions for improving the usefulness of the notified materials. This is now a very large body of material. We are approaching 5,000 distinct legal texts, as well as many other notifications such as the enforcement checklist and other materials.
15. In the course of their notifications, some Members have provided a brief description of a notified law, for example briefly describing the purpose, background and key features of an amendment to an existing IP law. In some cases, as we have just heard from the delegations of Switzerland, Colombia and South Africa, Members have also made a brief introduction to the Council outlining the main changes or additional material in the laws as notified. This kind of additional information facilitates the understanding of the notified materials, which can be difficult to grasp from a review only of the actual legal text of the law or amendment as furnished.
16. This supplementary explanatory information is helpful as for the most part we have effectively reached the end of the first phase of notifications under the TRIPS Agreement, whereby a Member makes a comprehensive notification of a wide range of basic IP laws. For many Members this material now dates back nearly two decades, and for many other Members well over a decade.
17. At this time, notifications tend to be more in a steady state pattern of regular reviews and updates of existing laws. The statistics confirm this. There was a lull in notification activity in the mid-2000s, after that first wave of major initial notifications. This has picked up recently as Members notify a diverse range of post-TRIPS amendments and updates to their core IP legislation. Since the last full review of notifications we reported to the Council in 2009, nearly 600 new notifications have been received. These largely refer to updates and amendments such as the three that Switzerland, Colombia and South Africa have just mentioned.
18. For the most part, notifications no longer focus on the initial basic reviews of laws but increasingly on amendments and updates corresponding to domestic reforms and domestic reviews. Therefore, especially for this kind of information, brief explanatory information is helpful in understanding the significance of a particular revision or update of the law that has been notified. Where Members elect to provide this information, we will aim to make it more accessible when Members consult the notifications online.
19. More generally, between this session of the Council and the next session, we will be consulting with Members on a prototype of an optional notification tool to facilitate data capture generally in such a way that streamlines operations for Members.
20. The second area of work concerns our internal operations – we are overhauling our internal procedures so that they take the form of an up-to-date data management system, reducing the need for manual processing and easing pressure on the documentation system overall, so that the range of reports and official documents required can be produced more rapidly and with less cost to the Secretariat. This approach has already enabled us to provide Council minutes more rapidly and with improved indexing and navigation tools to facilitate their use.
21. The final area of work concerns how to present notified materials and reports on the WTO website in a way that is more accessible and useful. Again we will be consulting with Members on possible approaches to improving the website and other ways of disseminating data and documentation, so that the information service provided in the area of TRIPS corresponds most effectively and more accurately with the practical needs of delegates and other Member officials, including capital-based officials. We propose to undertake this consultation through informal workshops and other informal feedback sessions open to any interested delegation, but equally we are available at any time to discuss with delegations in any other format that is convenient for them, in the hope that by the time the Council meets again in June we will have something more concrete to report on.