The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) aims to enable governments, businesses and individuals in all its 188 member states to realise the potential benefits of intellectual property (IP) as a driver of innovation and creativity. It is an intergovernmental organization based in Geneva, Switzerland with 1,300 staff from 120 countries around the world. WIPO also has over 350 accredited observers who take part in WIPO activities. Currently WIPO administers 26 international treaties touching on every aspect of IP.

According to WIPO, there are several IP-related policy issues currently under debate at the international level such as: patents and public health, trade marks and public health, appellations of origin and geographical indications (Lisbon issues), IP and development and traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources.

The first two issues are at the core of the intersections between public health, IP and trade currently being addressed by WIPO alongside two other Geneva-based UN specialised agencies namely, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). With regard to patents and public health, the key issues relate to Article 31 of the TRIPs Agreement. In addition, the Doha Declaration on TRIPs adopted in 2001 has a strong note emphasizing that public health is compromised because of inaccessibility of the medicines and provides a valid basis to the Members to enact and promote the exceptions to patent protection in their national legislation.

With regard to trade marks and public health, the central issue is whether a government can intervene on health and public policy grounds to regulate the manner in which tobacco products are marketed and sold and whether this intervention/regulation interferes with trade mark rights? As many may know, Ukraine (DSB Case DS434), along with the Dominican Republic (DS441), Cuba (DS458), Honduras (DS435) and Indonesia (DS467) have challenged Australia’s legislation on plain packaging for tobacco products at the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).

Sources: Edward Kwakwa, Presentation at WIPO-WTO Colloquium for Teachers of Intellectual Property, June 13-24, 2016