Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

WTO, TRIPS, EU: EC & Intellectual Property

Submission by the European Communities and their Member States to the TRIPs Council on the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce

20 April 1999

A. Introduction

Following the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce adopted by Ministers at the second session of the Ministerial Conference on 20 May 1998, the General Council established a comprehensive work programme for the relevant WTO bodies, including the TRIPs Council, to examine all trade-related issues relating to global electronic commerce, taking into account the economic, financial, and development needs of developing countries, and to report on the progress of the work programme, with any recommendations for action, to the third session (WT/L/274), on 25 September 1998. Specifically, the TRIPS Council is requested to examine and report on the intellectual property issues arising in connection with electronic commerce. The issues to be examined shall include (the implication of electronic commerce for) (a) the protection and enforcement of copyright and related rights, (b) the protection and enforcement of trademarks and (c) new technologies and access to technology.

In order to assist WTO Members in their deliberations, the WTO Secretariat prepared a general note discussing the relationship between WTO Agreements and global electronic commerce (WT/GC/W/90 of 14 July 1998). A more specific Background Note on intellectual property rights was prepared by the WTO Secretariat for the TRIPs Council (IP/C/W/128 of 10 February 1999). In addition, a Memorandum on 'Intellectual Property and Electronic Commerce' dated 31 July 1998 was prepared by the Director General of WIPO.


D. Conclusion

In summary, the following observations can be made:

The TRIPs Agreement, together with other international conventions, already provides for a sound basis for the protection of intellectual property rights in the off-line world and the on-line environment, which could be built upon, if necessary. In certain areas, shortcomings exist in the present system for the protection of intellectual property rights. In other areas, it has to be recognised that the TRIPs Agreement does only provide for minimum standards and does not aim at harmonising all aspects of intellectual property rights. Consequently, differences in the national protection systems appear to be inevitable. Some of the shortcomings might relate to issues which could go beyond those purely related to the protection of intellectual property rights and, therefore, might have to be addressed in a more horizontal manner. Work is already well under way in other international fora, notably WIPO. These developments will be closely followed. At an appropriate time in the future, and taking into account work done in other fora, it might be desirable to adapt or clarify the provisions of the TRIPs Agreement to reflect new technological developments in order to help foster a legal environment where electronic commerce can develop to the benefit of all participants.