Our Experience at the WTO: GUIPS Students Reflect on Their Internship Opportunity

In the Summer of 2019, former Intellectual Property & The Digital Economy LLM students (2018-2019) Wybke Häußler and Anthony Rosborough took part in a research internship with the World Trade Organization’s Intellectual Property Division. They were the first students to take part in this exciting opportunity for Glasgow students. Reporting on their experience, GUIPS conducted a brief interview with them about their experience and what they learned during their time in Geneva.

  • Why were you interested in an internship with the WTO?

Anthony: For much of my academic career, I have been interested in both international law and intellectual property law. The inclusion of IP at the international legal level is not particularly new, but its incorporation into international trade is and the WTO is a key actor in this. For these reasons, the prospect of going to the WTO in Geneva and conducting research on international trade issues pertinent to IP was very exciting to me. Working within the WTO and seeing some of the processes of decision-making was something that seemed really interesting to me.

Wybke: I became interested in the prospect of working with the WTO after our conversation with Mr. Antony Taubman (Director of the IP division at WTO) in our Copyright class and through his public lecture. This was what really interested me in working at the WTO. During the conversation, Mr. Taubman indicated that there are still quite a few unsolved problems among members of the WTO concerning Intellectual Property rights, and this piqued my interest.

  • What kind of educational or work-related experience do you have that prepared you for the internship?

Anthony: I completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Political Science and Juris Doctor (JD); both in Canada. After qualifying, I practiced law for three years in a law firm, mostly in the IP and litigation areas. Starting in law school, I developed a strong interest in intellectual property, and this developed throughout my time in practice. This interest led to me enrolling in Glasgow’s Intellectual Property & The Digital Economy LLM programme.

My prior education and work experience helped prepare me for the internship in a substantive sense, but it was more so my experience as a volunteer for the United Nations Association in Canada that prepared me for working within an international organisation. When I got there and started working, I realised that the WTO really was a logical extension of the skills I learned from these past experiences.

Wybke: Completing my LLM at the University of Glasgow and working at an IP-specialised firm before my time in Glasgow. Since the curriculum at my German Law School is quite different from the one I encountered in Glasgow, doing the LLM was the first time I was ever asked to really critically assess the law in an academic context. The advice Dr. Margoni gave us in our Copyright class was tremendously helpful to me. He constantly reminded us to keep our research question extremely narrow and defined to make research much easier. Dr. Margoni made it very clear to us that if someone asks us what our research topic is on, the response should never be that ‘it is complicated’. Rather students should be able to shortly outline the issue and why they are interested in it. Not only has this helped me to find my research topic for my internship at the WTO, but also reminded me to conduct my research in a way that actually helps me answer my own research question.

I would also consider that working in a firm that is specialised in IP was beneficial to my time at the WTO. During my time at the firm I was presented with various legal problems which I have never heard of before. Not only did my time there required me to find solutions to highly complex legal issues, but also it made me more sensible for possible issues that can occur in the context of IP.

  • What did you do to prepare for the internship?

Anthony: Aside from the logistical preparations like travel and accommodation, I did as much background reading as I could on various issues related to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”). I wanted to have a good understanding of some of the current issues.

Based on my experience working in litigation in a law firm, I was keenly interested in the dispute resolution aspects of TRIPS. This led to me doing some preliminary reading on the non-violation complaints process and the moratorium on it.

Wybke: When my final research topic was confirmed, I read up as much as I could about the current status of the debate at the WTO. I just really tried to be familiar with the current academic debate and how my research would fit into this. After reading up on the current debates, I sent a more detailed exposé/ outline of my research paper to my supervisor at the WTO to confirm whether what I was doing is of any use for the WTO.

  • What was the subject of your work during the internship?

Anthony: During my internship I researched the ongoing debate on the moratorium on non-violation complaints. Essentially, when TRIPS was established, contracting states envisioned a process whereby a state could bring a complaint against another for taking actions or omissions that deprives it of an “expected benefit” of TRIPS, even where no explicit violation of the agreement has taken place. Non-violation complaints have been precluded by a moratorium which has been renewed several times. In recent years, however, certain states have pushed to lift the moratorium. Whether or not the moratorium should be lifted has been the focus of a larger policy debate about the role of TRIPS and the inequality between developed and developing states.

Wybke: My research topic for my time at WTO was Geographical Indications and their effect on developing countries. This issue came to my attention because some two of the most powerful members of the WTO, the EU and the US have a dispute about whether a GI system is more suitable for developing countries or if a different type of certification mark is sufficient as well to further foster products and local farmers from developing countries. This discussion is embedded in the broader issue that the TRIPS Agreement has made it compulsory for its Members to protect GIs in their territory at a level that must be no lower than the minimum determined under Articles 23 and 24 of TRIPS; however, it has not prescribed any form of protection.

My main objective was to show underlying issues with the current debate surrounding whether a GI system like we have in the European Union or a different trademark certification system, like the one in the US, is better for developing countries. My objective was to show that this discussion should be focused more so on how to optimally design value chains for a certain product that a developing country wants to have some sort of trademark protection on. In the course of my research, I compared numerous GI and certification mark protected products and found out that neither system is perfect. There simply is more to the success of a certain product than just the sort of protection you give it. What I found is that there are GI-protected products, as well as certification mark protected products, that did not have the desired positive effect on farmers because the way the value chain is created creates some sort of bottleneck, where retailers or middleman are able to make the most profit out of the products.

  • What were the main things you learned or discovered from the internship?

Anthony: In terms of my research, I discovered that the debate surrounding non-violation complaints was not as straightforward or simple as I had thought. It turns out that lifting the moratorium and allowing these complaints may actually provide developing states with significant advantages. In many respects, the minimum standards set by TRIPS have been expanded upon through various “TRIPS Plus” free-trade agreements. By lifting the moratorium on non-violation complaints, it could be the case that developing states take advantage of this process to allege that these heightened standards actually undermine the guarantees and overarching balance contained within TRIPS.

In terms of being at the WTO and in Geneva, I learned that it is really important to set your own goals and objectives prior to attending the internship. The resources available to researchers in the WTO library is fantastic, but ultimately you will get out of the internship what you put into it. This requires setting goals for yourself and understanding what is possible given the time you have there.

Wybke: Working in an International Organisation was like nothing I have ever experienced before. There is no way one can compare it with working at a firm or working in academia. It was a very unique experience and I am entirely grateful that I was one of the two students who was given the opportunity to do an internship at the WTO.

  • How was your experience getting setup in Geneva for the internship?

Anthony: It was initially a bit difficult to find a place to stay for the internship. Geneva is quite a busy town and has a lot of students and bureaucrats. There was also the added difficulty of dealing in Swiss francs. I found a room in the accommodations for the University of Geneva, and after that, thing started to fall into place more easily. Flying to Switzerland did not take long, and once I arrived it was easy to figure out the layout of the city. Shops definitely do close early though, and so you have to be really careful about making sure that you plan your schedule well for groceries and things.

Wybke: For me personally it was a bit more difficult than I first would’ve expected it to be. I did not initially get a room in one of the student accommodations that the University of Geneva offers for students and interns. Hence, I had to call every single accommodation in Geneva and ask them whether there is still a room available during the time of my stay. Since a lot of students from all over the world come to Geneva during the summer months, it is really difficult to get a place. Due to my non-existent French language skills and the limited English skills most receptionists at accommodations had, communication was not always that easy.

My advice for future female students that want to go to Geneva and are looking for a room in an accommodation: not only should you look for a place to stay straight away when you know you’re going to Geneva, but you should probably also opt for the accommodations that only take in female students. It probably makes getting a room much easier (even though I did not stay in a “girls only” accommodation).

As for travelling to Switzerland, I drove there by car so I was additionally posed with the issue of finding a parking space in Geneva. The city has almost no parking lots that are completely free of charge. However, after emailing with a car park service at Geneva back and forth I was able to rent a parking lot in a car park for a month. This is also something I would highly recommend to any future students who consider driving there by car.

  • What advice do you have for future LLM students looking to complete a similar internship?

Anthony: Try not to be intimidated by the notion of going to the WTO to perform research. While the environment is prestigious and the work is very engaging, it should be thought of as an opportunity that is accessible to all of Glasgow’s intellectual property LLM students. Also, try to understand that the world of international organisations (including the WTO) is a bit different from the academic or legal environments in which we have become accustomed. International organisations such as the WTO are very big institutions with high security and a flurry of activity. Remember that your task during the internship is to perform good research and to produce interesting work. Try not to get distracted by the hustle and bustle of activities going on at the WTO. At the same time, take every opportunity to sit in on any presentations or negotiations that happen to be going on while you are there.

Wybke: Probably my biggest advice for future LLM students that are lucky enough to do an internship at the WTO is to actively talk to the people that work there and to ask them as many academic questions you can. Don’t be shy. Everyone at the WTO is super friendly and is an expert in their area of law, which offers students a great opportunity to have academic debates on an excellent level. It does not happen every day that you get the chance to have lunch with people that were part of the negotiations that led to the final draft of the TRIPS Agreement, so you really should make the most of this opportunity.

As for a more general advice I highly recommend checking whether your mobile phone provider includes Switzerland in the list of countries where you can use your mobile data. If it does not do so, I would highly recommend finding a provider that lists Switzerland because otherwise you won’t be able to use your phone for calls or mobile data! You also cannot easily buy a new SIM card in Switzerland as you need to be a resident or citizen of Switzerland in order to do so!

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