FFII Statement at WIPO IIM 13th April 2005

APRIL 13, 2005

I authored the following in my capacity as Director of FFII-UK as the FFII statement at WIPO IIM on the Development Agenda.

Submission of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, WIPO IIM 11th to 13th April 2005

First, at the outset Mr Chairman we would like to congratulate you, as well as the distinguished Vice-Chair, on your election. We would also like to thank the WIPO secretariat and its member states for this opportunity to present our views to you today.

Mr Chairman, distinguished delegates, and others, the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) is a non-profit association registered in several European countries, which is dedicated to the spread of data processing literacy. FFII supports the development of public information goods based on copyright, free competition, and open standards. More than 500 members, 1,200 companies and 75,000 supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions concerning exclusion rights (intellectual property) in data processing.

We wish to be brief in our submission and will only emphasize a single point, and one already clearly raised in the submission by the Friends of Development to this meeting in which they stated:

“[para 37] … Norm-setting at the international level has been dominated by a paradigm that regards intellectual property rights as the only and unequivocally beneficial instrument to promote creative intellectual activity. Increased scope and levels for intellectual property protection thus often become ends in themselves in international negotiations, which have failed to take into account the need to promote and enhance access to knowledge and the results of innovation ….

These are views we strongly endorse. To us the approach of WIPO often brings to mind the maxim that for those who possess a hammer everything is a nail. While IP in the right circumstances can be beneficial, conversely in the wrong ones it is undoubtedly harmful.

For our constituents this is not just an abstract possibility but a concrete one. A primary purpose of our organization over the last several years has been to protect the European software industry from the threat of software patents. For we believe that patents on software hinder rather than help innovation as well as fundamentally undermining the creation of the free and open standards necessary to sustain our information infrastructures into the 21st century. Our view is not simply opinion but is backed by a large body of evidence, to give one example among many, Deustche bank wrote in a report of June last year that: ‘Stronger IP protection is not always better. Chances are that patents on software, common practice in the US and on the brink of being legalised in Europe, in fact stifle innovation.’

Yet without any basis in either theory or fact a variety of WIPO documents have uncritically endorsed more and stronger IP as beneficial for the software industry. For example WIPO’s publication ‘Intellectual Property: A Power Tool for Economic Growth’ uncompromisingly states in its preface: ‘This publication is written from a definite perspective – that IP is good.’ In our view this is simply not the case: IP is neither good nor bad but only a tool – in some cases the benefits of IP outweigh the costs and in other cases they will not, how could it be otherwise? Such pronouncements only serve to encourage the view that, for WIPO, increased IP rights become ends in themselves, even when such rights harm the public interest, reducing access to knowledge, limiting innovation, obstructing competition and imposing large costs that fall most heavily on countries least able to bear them.

We believe that a refocusing of WIPO’s mission towards greater balance in the use of IP as well as the use of alternative methods of fostering creativity and innovation can only enhance the prestige of this body. Moreover it will also, more importantly, vastly increase the benefits and reduce the costs for its members of the agreements reached here. Thank you for your attention.