Lots has been happening this week that's just too obtuse to grab the attention of the mainstream media. One of the most exciting events has been a meeting in Geneva of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) — and with a name like the Inter-Sessional Intergovernmental Meeting on a Development Agenda for WIPO, it's hard to see why The Sun didn't clear its front page. WIPO exists to make sure that all the world speaks the same language when it comes to intellectual property, and for thirty years has moved to increase and extend IP law's reach across countries. Until now, the suspicion has been that this means speaking America's language, and there are no shortage of reasons to believe this boils down to IP as a useful tool for big business. The rest of the world, inasmuch as it felt that such an approach while admirable in its simplicity would not cover all the bases, disagreed to a greater (if you're not buddy-buddy with Dubya) or lesser (that would be us, then) degree.
There have been some unseemly consequences of this, with various interested parties told they wouldn't be welcome at WIPO, documentation disappearing, withdrawal of things like photocopier service and so on. But the smaller countries have learned to group together and say in one voice "More IP is not necessarily good", while the non-governmental groups and their pals have eagerly started to blog what's going on inside the WIPO in real time: no news reporters? Doesn't matter.
The result seems to be very positive. As the EFF, which has been instrumental in throwing the windows of WIPO open, says: "We won big this week. First, there is a genuinely substantive policy discussion going on within WIPO about its obligations to be more than an IP-factory and instead explore its capacity as a positive force for the social and economic development of its member states. Not only was the majority of the meeting spent discussing the excellent Friends of Development [14 countries, mostly Southern. RG] proposal, but the good guys secured two more meetings to focus on reforming WIPO, defeating those who wanted to limit the process to a single additional meeting. Second, WIPO agreed to open the next two events to the 17 non-accredited non-government organizations (NGOs) that fought hard to attend this first meeting."
Doubtless there'll be some form of backlash, as the established interests work out that those little rodents dashing so nimbly beneath their feet ain't going to go away. But there is a new openness, there is a better chance that organisations such as WIPO will be held to their original intent, and there is a sense that previously fractured and powerless interests for good are learning to work together and make things happen. In a business where optimism is sometimes in short supply, that's a splendid place to end the week.