WTO has extended, for more eight years, the transition period the for protection of intellectual property by the least developed countries under the TRIPS Agreement. According to the TRIPS agreement, the deadline for the least developed countries to begin implementation was 1 July 2013. WTO members agreed on 11 June 2013 to extend the deadline to 1 July 2021 with a further extension possible when the time comes. This decision followed months of intensive negotiations with a group of countries and worked through consultations.
A number of least developing countries led by Nepal have welcomed the decision indicating that the extension of the transition period for protection of intellectual property will contribute to efforts to meet the target set at the UN conference on least developed countries in May 2011 — for half of these countries to reach the threshold level of development that would allow them to “graduate” from the category by 2020
However, it remains to be seen whether the least developing countries will actually utilize this transition period. Whereas the transition period for protection of intellectual property is important for this group of countries, history shows that they do not normally utilize the period to improve the status quo.
Whereas the protection of intellectual property has positive linkage to development, the least developed countries have continued to request for stay of application of the TRIPS agreement. This could work against them instead of benefiting them. May be WTO should always ask for a roadmap of activities to be undertaken within the transition period for protection of intellectual property before approving such requests. Protection of intellectual property is a tool for economic development because it is important in stimulating innovations, encouraging scientific research and product development. Above all, protection of intellectual property eliminates free riders thereby promoting motivation and guaranteeing returns to investments.
This therefore means that the least developing countries should work to protect their innovations rather than staying application of the intellectual property rights agreement. Many of these least developed countries have suffered from free riders especially to the hand of those in the developed economies. The free riders have not only taken advantage of the innovations in the least developed economies they have also gone ahead to protect them as if they were the originators. This transition period for the protection of intellectual property could actually be another harvest time for free riders.
As it is, the transition for period protection of intellectual property gives freedom to the least developing countries to choose whether or not to protect trademarks, patents, copyright, industrial designs, geographical indications or any other form of intellectual property covered by the agreement. Indeed a number of these countries have laws on the protection of intellectual property but they still have difficulties on the implementation process. A number of the least developed countries have not documented their geographical indications, they have fewer personnel with relevant skills, the citizens are not well informed of their rights and obligations and not many have registered their trademarks, patents and copyrights. Where they been able to register their property rights, protection has not been effective due to challenges related to enforcement mechanism.
With the above challenges in mind, the least developed countries are justified in their quest for stay of application of the TRIPS Agreement until when they have built adequate capacity to be able to implement it. But do these countries have in place a roadmap for addressing these challenges. Have they put in place response strategies and allocated necessary resources to improve on the status quo with a view to implementing the TRIPS at the end of the transition period for protection of intellectual property . Unfortunately, a number of them may still not be ready come 2021.
The fear for some of the least developing countries is that implementation of the TRIPS comes along with obligations which include compensating property rights owners in case their rights are violated. Some others argue that at the lower level of development countries need not to protect intellectual property as this would undermine the transfer and adaptation of the much need technology by the least developed countries. But did the developed countries develop through transfer of technology or through encouraging the development of technology? Which one should be encouraged most?