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Saturday, March 6, 2010
Laying the foundation of an intellectual property bridge
The Internet may arguably be the pre-eminent example of how recent technological developments have made life more convenient.
But the evolution of such technology also presents challenges in the need to balance the protection of intellectual properties, particularly against copyright violations, with the international community's need for access.
"There's a lot to be done," Francis Gurry, director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, a U.N. agency, said in an interview this week, referring to the group's task to develop a balanced, accessible international intellectual property system.
Along with copyright protection in cyberspace, Gurry, whose organization has 184 member countries, including Japan, said another major challenge is to bring developed and developing countries closer in the effort to combat climate change by helping transfer green technology to the developing nations.
"It is difficult for any international organization in the current international context" to reach an agreement between developed and developing countries, said Gurry, who was visiting Tokyo this week for an international forum on intellectual property.
Gurry said that while copyright has provided the principle mechanism of "financing culture," there has been a breakdown in the digital environment. In the last year alone, he notes, 40 billion music files were illegally exchanged across the Internet.
"I think what is important is developing awareness that something very important is at stake here, namely, the means of financing culture," said Gurry, a 57-year-old Australian who has worked at WIPO for more than 20 years.
While it remains unclear how this issue will be resolved, Gurry pointed to possible models under consideration.
One involves bringing intermediaries into the value chain of production, much like how printing companies have operated in the analog world.
With profit determined by copies sold, printers have an interest in the production of legitimate content. Following this model, intermediaries in the chain of production in the digital world would have a vested interest in protecting content, Gurry said.
Another idea is to establish a flat-fee system under which users may download music for a certain period of time.
While it's too early to say which model is superior, Gurry stressed a way must be found. "It's simply not possible for content all to be free," said Gurry, who sees a similar challenge for the growing electronic-book market.
The divide between developed and developing countries over intellectual property has been hard to bridge. Developed nations want to protect their intellectual property, while developing countries say the patent system has made it hard for them to access technology and knowledge.
The problem has widened to green technology with the global challenge of climate change.
Gurry said WIPO has to play a role in assisting the market for green technology to work in a balanced manner.
Some developing countries say the transfer of green technology has not progressed, claiming access to such technology has been blocked by developed countries' patents.
"Green innovation is of relatively little value if it is used only in one country, since climate change is a global challenge," Gurry said.
"I think we have an important work in creating first of all a dialogue as to what policy mechanisms encourage the diffusion and transfer of technology," he said, adding that strengthening private-public partnership is one direction.
The smooth transfer of green technology is a vital topic, as the economy of the future will be heavily dependent on it, he said.
"The whole of economic activity will be related in one way or another to green technology . . . otherwise there is no hope for humanity," he said, adding his priority is to put an end to years of confrontation on intellectual property.