International Treaties on IPR

There are different subject matters of intellectual property like Patents, Copyright, Trademarks, Industrial design, Plant Varieties etc. Need for protection in these different subjects arose in different periods. These are reflected in different treaties. Agreement on TRIPS, under the aegis of WTO, remains the most influential, comprehensive and inclusive of all. Other treaties are covered here for background information.

There are two main bodies – World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) under UN which administers 1-7 treaties mentioned below. the 8th treaty is independent of any organization. Another relevant body is the World Trading Organization. 9th (or TRIPS) is administered by the WTO. the 10th treaty comes under UNESCO.

  1. Paris Convention for Industrial Property, 1883Since it deals only with Industrial property, it covered only Patents and Trademarks. It was among the first treaties to recognize various principles of international trade like National Treatment, Right of Priority, Common rules etc.
  2. Bern convention for literary and artistic works, 1886 It provided for a copyright system. It doesn’t provide for any formality to claim protection. Protection is automatically accorded to any creation, provided work is original and other conditions under the treaty are fulfilled. It means that your work, if original, is already protected. You can claim that you have copyright.
  3. Madrid Agreement, 1881Governs the international recognition of trademarks. Made international fillings easy and cheap.
  4. Patent cooperation treaty, 1970 – It was earlier not possible for an entity to claim protection in different countries by single application. This was made possible as it aimed for co-operation and it was open for all parties to the Paris convention.
  5. Budapest Treaty of 1980It made possible patenting for microorganisms. Claimant is required to deposit his invention on micro-organisms with an Authority – ‘International depository of Micro-Organisms’ under WIPO. He shall make all the adequate disclosures.
  6. Trademark Law Treaty, 1994Harmonized administrative procedures and introduced ‘service marks’ in ambit of trade marks. Earlier trademarks were accorded only to goods.
  7. The Hague agreement concerning the International Deposit of ‘Industrial Design’ 1925 – It created the International Design Bureau of WIPO.
  8. International Union for protection of new varieties of plants, 1961 – This provides breeders and farmers the right to new plant varieties.
  9. Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property – It is a landmark and most comprehensive treaty on Intellectual property. While earlier treaties’ subject matters were specific, TRIPS deal with 8 kinds of property rights – Patents, Trademarks, trade dress, Copyrights, Industrial Designs, Plant Varieties, Integrated Circuits and layouts, and Geographical Indication. Further, almost all countries are party to TRIP. In earlier treaties only limited countries participated. It also provides an enforcement mechanism which was not available in WIPO treaties. It mandated all member countries to make their domestic laws compliant to TRIPS. India passed certain laws and amended others. India’s IPR regime now stands fully compliant to TRIPS. For E.g. India amended patent law in 2005 to provide ‘product’ patent protection. Earlier protection was available only to ‘processes’.

TRIPS were the results of discussions held in the Uruguay round which led to the formation of WTO. This treaty is an offshoot of the General Agreement on Trade in Goods (GATT). This treaty provided a robust Dispute Resolution Mechanism and stringent penal provisions under auspices of WTO.


Further, every treaty under WTO is based some principle which are –

  1. National Treatment – No foreign products, once they enter domestic territories, shall be discriminated against in any manner. This also applies to intellectual property. Members must accord similar treatment to foreign creations, as they do to domestic ones.
  2. Most Favored Nation – If a member provides some privilege, favorable treatment or exemption to another country or group, then other members must get similar favorable treatment.
  3. Right to priority treatment – If a similar patent application has been filed in two different countries, then the prior applicant has the right to the patent.
  4. Concept of Minimum Standards – This treaty provides for a minimum level of protection that every member should provide to intellectual property. Members have discretion to provide more protection than minimum standards.
  5. Universal Copyright Convention, 1952 – This convention is administered by UNESCO. This exists simultaneously with the Bern Convention. This treaty provides for procedural formalities for filing and recognition of copyright. As Bern convention provides for an automatic route to copyright, this treaty has lost its relevance.