The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.
The system’s overriding purpose is to help trade flow as freely as possible — so long as there are no undesirable side effects — because this is important for economic development and well-being. That partly means removing obstacles. It also means ensuring that individuals, companies, and governments know what the trade rules are around the world, and giving them the confidence that there will be no sudden changes of policy. In other words, the rules have to be transparent and predictable.
WTO also administers the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, which came into effect on January 1, 1995, and 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 Council for TRIPS is the body, open to all members of the WTO, that is responsible for administering the TRIPS Agreement, in particular monitoring the operation of the Agreement (Article 68). The TRIPS Council also meets in “special sessions”. Sessions to negotiate a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits. In addition to setting minimum standards concerning the availability, scope, and use of intellectual property rights in these areas, the TRIPS Agreement also addresses enforcement of intellectual property rights, dispute prevention and settlement, and other matters.