WIPO is often stuck between a rock and a hard place. Its 184-strong body of member states can make for slow progress on even the most pressing of issues. But the UN organisation is making some headway in the fight against counterfeiting as it settles into its role as nexus – a fact outlined at an IP conference in South Africa last week.

Louise Van Greunen, director of WIPO’s building respect for IP division, discussed the purpose of WIPO’s Development Agenda to ensure a balance in the IP system and how this has led to the setting of Strategic Goal VI. This aim states how WIPO hopes for: “Informed policy discussions at the international level to support the creation of an enabling environment that promotes respect for  intellectual property in a sustainable manner and strengthened capacity in member states for the effective enforcement of IP rights in the interest of social and economic development and consumer protection.”

The latter section of that goal could be tricky: WIPO cannot trot through its member states telling them how to enforce IP rights in their respective jurisdictions. And yet it must bring together stakeholders as diverse as industry, individuals and authorities. To do so, WIPO has situated this goal within its Development Agenda: only in this way can the organisation look at what fuels counterfeiting and piracy and therefore work to address such issues as poverty.

Darren Olivier, partner at Bowman Gilfillan, heard Van Guernen speak at the conference. “I was impressed with WIPO’s apparent commitment to analysing the different methods of stopping counterfeiting, which endorses a multi-faceted approach with which I agree,” he told WTR. “WIPO’s role does not appear to be focused only on research and Van Greunen spoke of a number of different initiatives including an IP outreach programme that they are involved in.”

Of course, senior trademark counsel understand the reasons for fighting fakes. But many of WIPO’s stakeholders will not, adding an extra dimension to the anti-counterfeiting agenda. Any such plan must first consider how to win the support of the relevant stakeholders. One way to do this is to link counterfeiting to other crimes. Some parties have long claimed these links, with little factual basis. That problem has been discussed previously here at WTR, but the claims persist. In a May 2011 report for British American Tobacco, Deloitte asserted: “A number of market commentators, including government bodies responsible for dealing with organised crime, have also recognised the presence of potential links between illicit tobacco and wider organised cime. In its 2009 annual report on European organised crime, the European Police Office made a link between the sale of counterfeit commodities and other criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, illegal migration, stolen vehicle trafficking and terrorism.”

WIPO, on the other hand, does not claim a link between counterfeiting and terrorism. Rather prudently, the organisation acknowledges the paucity of data, which may make one wonder exactly what facts the European Police Office has obtained but is not releasing.

Without this data, it may remain difficult to obtain full support for anti-counterfeiting from every jurisdiction and authority. Without this data, frankly, counterfeiting will not be viewed as seriously as a threat as the other crimes mentioned in the Deloitte report. According to Van Greunen’s speech at the Stellenbosch University conference last week, WIPO will continue to focus on pulling all the relevant stakeholders together and plugging its message of responsibility. Says Olivier: “WIPO has a significant role to play in the fight against counterfeiting but that it should not be left to them alone. As expressed by Van Greunen, governments and companies have a social responsibility toward stopping it.”

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