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Commentary: WIPO and Caribbean intellectual property - what's the point?
Published on July 2, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Abiola Inniss

Recent months have seen a few interesting intellectual property (IP) symposia in the Caribbean, in particular the WIPO–JIPO Regional Conference on IP and creative industries which was held in Jamaica from February 10-12 2014. It is quite interesting that in spite of the intention that it should be regional as indicated in the title of the conference, there seems to have been little participation from the 15 member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and that most of the sessions focused on Jamaica and its situation, perhaps a natural outcome of the WIPO–JIPO collaboration.

Abiola Inniss is a leading analyst, researcher and author on Caribbean Intellectual Property and the founder of the Caribbean Law Digest Online. She is a law teacher, alternative dispute resolution practitioner and presenter who has written extensively on Caribbean IP law and other areas of Caribbean law. Among her publications are two books on law, one on public speaking, several articles, issue briefs, academic papers and book reviews. She has lectured and presented papers in the Caribbean and the United States of America on Caribbean Intellectual Property, reviewed conference papers and conducted research. She is currently reading for a PhD at Walden University, USA
Progressive Caribbean intellectuals in the area of intellectual property were also notably absent from the forum. In both of these situations WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) holds responsibility for not ensuring that the conference was widely advertised and that leading regional intellectuals were sourced. Without the involvement of a wide range of Caribbean participants, such a forum was nothing more than a Jamaica IP conference and the results of the consultations cannot be reflective of the regional interests.

Jamaica is to be commended for its leading role in hosting the conference as well as its proactive stance on issues of reproduction rights and the creation of digital educational materials. It also operates the most progressive copyright licensing office in the Caribbean and seems to be working very hard to accommodate the newer forms of digital works which require copyright protection.

The issue of the relevance of intellectual property to regional growth is yet to be properly addressed and this leaves the majority of countries asking the questions: “What’s in it for me?” and “How do we go about implementing a system that works for us at home and complies with international requirements to an acceptable degree?”

The WIPO statistics for 2013 on IP registration in select countries in the Caribbean indicate that IP has accounted for a very small percentage of the GDP and that there has been no substantial growth for some time (see WIPO IP Facts and Figures 2013). A more particular example of this is that for the year 2012 Jamaica recorded 114 patent applications and 64 for industrial designs. Barbados had a total of 36 patents, 1,397 trademark applications and four for industrial designs. Trinidad and Tobago recorded nothing in any category, and Guyana had nothing as well.

The argument has been made that several developing countries, including Malaysia, Korea, China, India and Brazil, have managed to achieve relatively high levels of economic growth in the absence of strong intellectual property rights, but this was all in the past before the internet era dawned, changing the economic paradigm, and introducing a system into which international trade has become subsumed, and the exchange of all kinds of information has become instantaneous.

It should be of great concern to thinkers, policymakers and international organizations involved in the field of IP that such symposia, which can help to enlighten and perhaps redirect regional efforts into positive action, do not reach the majority that needs the information the most. There is little point in the continuous hosting of meetings and other talk shops that do not reach top policymakers and other key decision makers and therefore do not make any noticeable contribution to changing the ways in which the Caribbean region treats with intellectual property issues.

The approach to creating the balance of interests in public policy that will allow for an IP regimen both compliant with local needs and international responsibilities requires intellectual expertise and practical application. Thus far CARICOM has failed to demonstrate any leadership in this area and has focused millions of dollars and considerable attention on reparations from slavery as a means of aiding development the region, an action so preposterous within the context of modern development, which is based on research and innovations, that one can hardly think whether to laugh or cry.

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has begun taking steps towards arranging its IP affairs in a comprehensive manner after the example of Jamaica and, with properly accessed and applied expertise, can be expected to make real progress within the next five years.

In the meantime, the statistical and other evidence on research and innovations as discussed above demonstrate the grave weaknesses in policy and practical application across the region. WIPO and other international organizations that claim to work towards providing relevant resources for IP development would do well to rework their approach to Caribbean intellectual property.
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