Excerpts from WTO documents - to be found on the Intellectual Property pages of the WTO. 

Intellectual property rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time. Intellectual property rights are customarily divided into two main areas:  

(i) Copyright and rights related to copyright. The rights of authors of literary and artistic works (such as books and other writings, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture, computer programs and films) are protected by copyright, for a minimum period of 50 years after the death of the author. Also protected through copyright and related (sometimes referred to as "neighbouring") rights are the rights of performers (e.g. actors, singers and musicians), producers of phonograms (sound recordings) and broadcasting organizations. The main social purpose of protection of copyright and related rights is to encourage and reward creative work.  

(ii) Industrial property. Industrial property can usefully be divided into two main areas:

- One area can be characterized as the protection of distinctive signs, in particular trademarks (which distinguish the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings) and geographical indications (which identify a good as originating in a place where a given characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin). The protection of such distinctive signs aims to stimulate and ensure fair competition and to protect consumers, by enabling them to make informed choices between various goods and services. The protection may last indefinitely, provided the sign in question continues to be distinctive.

- Other types of industrial property are protected primarily to stimulate innovation, design and the creation of technology. In this category fall inventions (protected by patents), industrial designs and trade secrets. The social purpose is to provide protection for the results of investment in the development of new technology, thus giving the incentive and means to finance research and development activities. A functioning intellectual property regime should also facilitate the transfer of technology in the form of foreign direct investment, joint ventures and licensing. The protection is usually given for a finite term (typically 20 years in the case of patents).

While the basic social objectives of intellectual property protection are as outlined above, it should also be noted that the exclusive rights given are generally subject to a number of limitations and exceptions, aimed at fine-tuning the balance that has to be found between the legitimate interests of right holders and of users.  


Main features of the TRIPS Agreement

The TRIPS Agreement, which came into effect on 1 January 1995, is to date the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property. The areas of intellectual property that it covers are: copyright and related rights (i.e. the rights of performers, producers of sound recordings and broadcasting organizations); trademarks including service marks; geographical indications including appellations of origin; industrial designs; patents including the protection of new varieties of plants; the layout- designs of integrated circuits; and undisclosed information including trade secrets and test data. The three main features of the Agreement are: 

(i) Standards. In respect of each of the main areas of intellectual property covered by the TRIPS Agreement, the Agreement sets out the minimum standards of protection to be provided by each Member. Each of the main elements of protection is defined, namely the subject-matter to be protected, the rights to be conferred and permissible exceptions to those rights, and the minimum duration of protection. The Agreement sets these standards by requiring, first, that the substantive obligations of the main conventions of the WIPO, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (Paris Convention) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) in their most recent versions, must be complied with. With the exception of the provisions of the Berne Convention on moral rights, all the main substantive provisions of these conventions are incorporated by reference and thus become obligations under the TRIPS Agreement between TRIPS Member countries. The relevant provisions are to be found in Articles 2.1 and 9.1 of the TRIPS Agreement, which relate, respectively, to the Paris Convention and to the Berne Convention. Secondly, the TRIPS Agreement adds a substantial number of additional obligations on matters where the pre-existing conventions are silent or were seen as being inadequate. The TRIPS Agreement is thus sometimes referred to as a Berne and Paris-plus agreement.  

(ii) Enforcement. The second main set of provisions deals with domestic procedures and remedies for the enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Agreement lays down certain general principles applicable to all IPR enforcement procedures. In addition, it contains provisions on civil and administrative procedures and remedies, provisional measures, special requirements related to border measures and criminal procedures, which specify, in a certain amount of detail, the procedures and remedies that must be available so that right holders can effectively enforce their rights.  

(iii) Dispute settlement. The Agreement makes disputes between WTO Members about the respect of the TRIPS obligations subject to the WTO's dispute settlement procedures. In addition the Agreement provides for certain basic principles, such as national and most-favoured-nation treatment, and some general rules to ensure that procedural difficulties in acquiring or maintaining IPRs do not nullify the substantive benefits that should flow from the Agreement. The obligations under the Agreement will apply equally to all Member countries, but developing countries will have a longer period to phase them in. Special transition arrangements operate in the situation where a developing country does not presently provide product patent protection in the area of pharmaceuticals. The TRIPS Agreement is a minimum standards agreement, which allows Members to provide more extensive protection of intellectual property if they so wish. Members are left free to determine the appropriate method of implementing the provisions of the Agreement within their own legal system and practice.  


The TRIPS Agreement requires Member countries to make patents available for any inventions, whether products or processes, in all fields of technology without discrimination, subject to the normal tests of novelty, inventiveness and industrial applicability. It is also required that patents be available and patent rights enjoyable without discrimination as to the place of invention and whether products are imported or locally produced (Article 27.1).  

There are three permissible exceptions to the basic rule on patentability.  

Members may provide limited exceptions to the exclusive rights conferred by a patent, provided that such exceptions do not unreasonably conflict with a normal exploitation of the patent and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the patent owner, taking account of the legitimate interests of third parties (Article 30). The term of protection available shall not end before the expiration of a period of 20 years counted from the filing date (Article 33).  

Members shall require that an applicant for a patent shall disclose the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for the invention to be carried out by a person skilled in the art and may require the applicant to indicate the best mode for carrying out the invention known to the inventor at the filing date or, where priority is claimed, at the priority date of the application (Article 29.1). If the subject-matter of a patent is a process for obtaining a product, the judicial authorities shall have the authority to order the defendant to prove that the process to obtain an identical product is different from the patented process, where certain conditions indicating a likelihood that the protected process was used are met (Article 34).  

Compulsory licensing and government use without the authorization of the right holder are allowed, but are made subject to conditions aimed at protecting the legitimate interests of the right holder. The conditions are mainly contained in Article 31. These include the obligation, as a general rule, to grant such licences only if an unsuccessful attempt has been made to acquire a voluntary licence on reasonable terms and conditions within a reasonable period of time; the requirement to pay adequate remuneration in the circumstances of each case, taking into account the economic value of the licence; and a requirement that decisions be subject to judicial or other independent review by a distinct higher authority. Certain of these conditions are relaxed where compulsory licences are employed to remedy practices that have been established as anticompetitive by a legal process. These conditions should be read together with the related provisions of Article 27.1, which require that patent rights shall be enjoyable without discrimination as to the field of technology, and whether products are imported or locally produced.

Transitional arrangements  

The TRIPS Agreement gives all WTO Members transitional periods so that they can meet their obligations under it. The transitional periods, which depend on the level of development of the country concerned, are contained in Articles 65 and 66. Developed country Members have had to comply with all of the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement since 1 January 1996. However, all Members, even those availing themselves of the longer transitional periods, have had to comply with the national treatment and MFN treatment obligation as of 1 January 1996. For developing countries, the general transitional period is five years, i.e. until 1 January 2000. A country whose economy is in transition, but which is not a developing country, may nonetheless delay application until the year 2000, if it meets three tests:  

For those countries on the United Nations list of least-developed countries, the transitional period is eleven years. The Agreement provides a possibility to extend the transitional period upon duly motivated request. There are two important substantive obligations that have been effective from the entry into force of the TRIPS Agreement on 1 January 1995. One is the so-called "non-backsliding" clause in Article 65.5 which concerns changes made during the transitional period, and the other the so-called "mail-box" provision in Article 70.8 for filing patent applications for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products during the transitional period.  

The "non-backsliding" clause in Article 65.5 forbids countries from using the transition period to reduce the level of protection of intellectual property in a way which would result in a lesser degree of consistency with the requirements of the Agreement. Special transition rules apply in the situation where a developing country does not provide product patent protection in a given area of technology, especially to pharmaceutical or agricultural chemical inventions, on the general date of application of the Agreement for that Member, i.e. in the year 2000. According to Article 65.4, such a developing country may delay the application of the TRIPS obligations on product patents to that area of technology for an additional five years (i.e. to the year 2005).

However, the Agreement includes additional transitional arrangements in the situation where a country does not provide, as of the date of entry into force of the WTO Agreement, patent protection for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products commensurate with the TRIPS provisions. In accordance with the "mail-box" provision contained in Article 70.8, the country concerned must provide, as from the date of entry into force of the WTO Agreement, a means by which patent applications for such inventions can be filed.  

These applications will not need to be examined for their patentability until the country starts applying product patent protection in that area, i.e. for a developing country, at the end of the ten-year transition period. However, at that time, the application must be examined by reference to the prior art as it existed at the time the application was made. If the application is successful, product patent protection would then have to be granted for the remainder of the patent term counted from the filing date of the application.  

If a product that has been the subject of such a patent application obtains marketing approval before the decision on the grant of the patent is taken, there is an obligation under Article 70.9 to grant exclusive marketing rights for a period of up to five years to tide over the gap. This is subject to a number of safeguards to ensure that the product concerned is a genuine invention: subsequent to the entry into force of the WTO Agreement, a patent application must have been filed, a patent granted and marketing approval obtained in another Member for the product in question.

Protection of existing subject-matter

An important aspect of the transition arrangements under the TRIPS Agreement is the provisions relating to the treatment of subject-matter already existing at the time that a Member starts applying the provisions of the Agreement. As provided in Article 70.2, the rules of the TRIPS Agreement generally apply to subject-matter existing on the date of application of the Agreement for the Member in question and which is protected in that Member on the said date. In respect of copyright and most related rights, there are additional requirements.  

Articles 9.1, 14.6 and 70.2 of the TRIPS Agreement oblige WTO Members to comply with Article 18 of the Berne Convention, not only in respect of the rights of authors but also in respect of the rights of performers and producers of phonograms in phonograms.  

Article 18 of the Berne Convention as incorporated into the TRIPS Agreement includes the so-called rule of retroactivity, according to which the Agreement applies to all works which have not yet fallen into the public domain either in the country of origin or the country where protection is claimed through the expiry of the term of protection. The provisions of Article 18 allow some transitional flexibility where a country is, as a result, taking subject-matter out of the public domain and putting it under protection, in respect of the interests of persons who have in good faith already taken steps on the basis of the material being in the public domain.

Other Intellectual Property Conventions Incorporated by Reference into the TRIPS Agreement  

The TRIPS Agreement contains references to the provisions of certain pre-existing intellectual property conventions. According to Article 2.1 of the Agreement, the WTO Members shall, in respect of Parts II, III and IV of the Agreement, comply with Articles 1 through 12, and Article 19, of the Paris Convention (1967) (the Stockholm Act of 14 July 1967 of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property).

Article 9.1 of the Agreement requires Members to comply with Articles 1 through 21 of the Berne Convention (1971) and the Appendix thereto (the Paris Act of 24 July 1971 of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works). However, Members do not have rights or obligations under the TRIPS Agreement in respect of the rights conferred under Article 6bis of that Convention, i.e. the moral rights, or of the rights derived therefrom. As regards protection of the layout-designs of integrated circuits, Article 35 of the Agreement requires Members to comply with Articles 2 through 7 (other than Article 6.3), Article 12 and Article 16.3 of the Treaty on Intellectual Property in Respect of Integrated Circuits, adopted at Washington on 26 May 1989. The Agreement contains some references to certain provision of the Rome Convention (the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations, adopted at Rome on 26 October 1961). However, there is no general obligation to comply with the substantive provisions of that Convention.