IP Watch Takes a Look at the EPO Project on the Future of Intellectual Property (link)

July 31, 2006

Washington, D.C., 28 Jul 2006

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The European Patent Office (EPO) with its centralised patent grant system was established in 1973. The EPO has 31 member states and comprises a legislative body, the administrative council, and its Munich-based executive office. The EPO has addressed its concerns about the future of the intellectual property system by launching a major study of the "critical issues" ahead. The first part of the study, the result of 64 interviews with key players worldwide, has now been published in a book by the EPO. Intellectual Property Watch spoke recently with Konstantinos Karachalios, a member of the team carrying out the EPO Scenarios for the Future project, about the potential and challenges of the project. One challenge could be that the project finds that solutions may be found outside of the IP system itself. If that is the case, will the EPO and others be willing, and able, to change?

Intellectual Property Watch (IPW): How do you see the future of the IP system and what is the Scenarios for the Future project?

KONSTANTINOS KARACHALIOS (KARACHALIOS): The EPO launched a scenario project about a year ago. We want to see how the intellectual property rights landscape might look 15 years from now; the horizon is 2020. We are looking at the IP system worldwide, not only the European, not only the patents, Of course the question is what are the implications for Europe, and then what could be the implications for us, and then can we do something to influence the outcome so that it can be a win-win situation. Scenarios are not to predict the future, not to plan - they help structuring your mind. They help you better understand the long-term driving forces that are working already now, shaping the system, like continental plates moving, rotating and drifting. They enable you to think of different reactions to the current challenges. If you can figure out that there may be quite different outcomes, some of them possibly detrimental by all criteria, and that ultimately they may depend also on your actions, then you may assume a different kind of responsibility.

A very good example of such an exercise was the United Nations' AIDS in Africa scenario, where they took into account all possible influences and driving forces but then the way they structured it, the three different outcomes, was based on the political will of their current leaders and also the rest of the world to assume different kinds and levels of responsibility. That means the responsibility is on human shoulders and depends decisively on our current course of acting or being passive.

As the UN scenario, the EPO scenario project is not meant as a prediction. It may ultimately serve as a guide how to take decisions and act now, if you want to avoid something or to reach something else. We are about 40 persons in the EPO dealing jointly with this exercise. We are called the 'scenario builders.' The EPO is quite a big organisation, some 6,500 persons, and, as far as I know, it is the third biggest intergovernmental organisation [IGO] worldwide, after the United Nations and the European Commission.

We have already had two workshops, where we agreed that we want to look to 2020. Nobody gave us this horizon, and amazingly all organisations and governments dealing with future scenarios have more or less the same time perspective. It seems that people cannot imagine looking farther than these 15 years. So do for instance the Australian government and the National Intelligence Council (US) – their stories also end at 2020.

"The EPO scenario project is not meant as a prediction. It may ultimately serve as a guide how to take decisions and act now."We do not see this as an "esoteric" or internal EPO exercise. We have up to now interviewed 70 persons all around the world, taking very different stances towards the IP system and its perspectives, and there is more to come. In addition, in our workshops we systematically invite "external voices" who help us better understand the mood outside not only our organisation but also outside the IP system itself. In four dedicated workshops planned for the next months, the analogy of internals and externals will almost be one to one. Moreover, since we are an IGO, we are going to involve representatives from our 31 contracting states. It is quite a complicated structure, involving many more persons than the mentioned team of 40 scenario builders.

IPW: So you are still in the process of developing the project? But can you already say anything about the main challenges?

KARACHALIOS: We have identified already four basic driving forces on a very consensual broad basis: People from very different nations, different positions within the office, very different backgrounds - we all agreed on these four major driving forces which are more continental shelves moving, drifting, pressing one another.

The first is, broadly speaking, society. The deeper, long term expectations, fears, attitudes, how this underground landscape may influence the IP system. It might sound trivial, but it is not, because there has been a perception that the IP system is something for specific circles, experts and lawyers. However, since IP has entered the political arena, wider societal forces inevitably demand a greater role and influence.

There are political movements, non-governmental organisations [NGOs], wishing to play a role - already playing a role. That is very apparent. As the IP history of the past 100 years shows, a big problem is that IP is one of the rare, highly polarised fields, where it is apparently very difficult to build any kind of consensus, even to gather commonly agreed empirical data to serve as a basis for an objective discussion. It is a huge task for everybody rejecting extremist positions and seeking to create win-win situations.

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