Taking part in a panel on multilateral IP issues and policy, WIPO Deputy Director General Jim Pooley said there had been "inertia" in international negotiations since the TRIPs Agreement in 1995, with "almost religious" differences between some countries.
But, said Pooley, the tide is now turning. He noted that the US America Invents Act, passed in September, was a step towards harmonisation and added that WIPO's Standing Committee on the Law of Patents last year made progress by agreeing a substantive agenda.
Pooley also commended the work undertaken in the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, and in particular the negotiations on an Audiovisual Performers Treaty.
The AVP Treaty is set to be signed in Beijing in June, 12 years after a Diplomatic Conference on the same subject closed without agreement.
Justin Hughes of Cardozo Law School, who has negotiated the AVP Treaty on behalf of the US government over the past three years, agreed that there are signs of progress at WIPO.
He said this was partly down to "the natural tide of events": "Things had got so bad at WIPO that they had to get better."
He also said there is also now more pressure on WIPO due to bilateral and plurilateral negotiations elsewhere.
Allied to this trend, said Hughes, there is now greater honesty in negotiations: "People can say: these are my restraints, and the political pressures on me."
"There are precipices at WIPO we've been able to draw back from," added Hughes.
Asked by host Hugh Hansen whether they are optimistic that negotiations will improve in the next five years, the panellists were generally positive.
But they also warned that the world has become more complicated. Negotiations are "a much harder slog now," said Shira Perlmutter of the USPTO, thanks to public controversy over issues such as copyright and the internet, as well as changing dynamics between developed and so-called developing countries.
Perlmutter said states such as the BRIC countries are increasingly visible at WIPO and called this "a healthy development".
Read more about the negotiations leading to the AVP Treaty, and other discussions at WIPO, in an extended feature (including an exclusive interview with WIPO Director General Francis Gurry) in Managing IP's April issue, just published.
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