Tuesday, November 03, 2009

UNCITRAL security interests consultation update

Canada is off once again to Vienna to chair the UNCITRAL initiative on security interests. The Canadian delegation is now in Vienna from November 2 to November 6, 2009.

Canada has provided the Chairperson for UNCITRAL'S Working Group VI, which deals with Security Interests since its first session in New York in 2002. She is Kathryn Sabo of the federal Department of Justice. This is the 16th session of Working Group VI. All of the meetings have taken place in New York and Vienna.

Working Group VI has come up with a basic “Guide” document dealing with security interests generally. The main document is here. Don't be in a rush to hit “print”. It's over 500 pages long.

The supplementary material, currently under consideration, and which seems to deal mainly with IP, is inconveniently split up into small chunks, is here.

Even though these latest draft papers date from July of 2009, the consultation by telephone took place only last week on October 29, 2009.

IPIC (Intellectual Property Institute of Canada) took part in the consultation and has prepared some good written commentary. It has an active and well informed committee. It provided suggestions on acquisition financing, continuous filing, the “ordinary course” rule, and choice of law relating to royalties. IPIC also provided detailed comments back in April. Without the prodding of IPIC and perhaps my occasional blogs, I doubt that there would have been any consultation.

The problem for most readers of this blog, and even its author, is that these several hundred pages of documents are written in very inscrutable international bureaucratese about very technical stuff at the edge of IP, bankruptcy, insolvency, licensing, and banking/lending law. Even if one has the time to read all of the documents, this is very tough going. There are probably only about a couple of dozen people in Canada who can make much sense out of them, and probably less than a handful of people who have serious expertise in all of the necessary areas.

We struggled with all of this almost a decade ago when the late lamented Law Commission of Canada looked at the issue - and we did come up with a perfectly readable book that I edited, still available here.

But the current landscape is quite unreadable. Given the undoubtedly large investment made by Canada in the time and travel costs of providing a Chairperson and three experts to advise her for this UNCITRAL Working Group VI efforts over the several years, I would have thought that Canadians could be provided with a few pages of explanatory documents about what is going on and how it may affect them.

I've been told that the UNCITRAL soft law initiative is consistent with Canadian law. That is not without irony because Canadian law is not exactly very clear on lots of fundamental questions, as anyone who reads my book will quickly see. Little has changed since that book was published in 2002. The UNCITRAL efforts will presumably provide a framework for other countries thinking of legislating in this area. This will supposedly benefit Canadians seeking to do business in such countries. If this is so, is it too much to ask that our government inform Canadians what this is all about in language that Canadian lawyers, bankers and other stakeholders can understand?

These issues are potentially very important for those in sectors such as film, sound recordings, software, and high tech generally where financing deals can readily involve IP as collateral, if there is sufficient expertise to do such deals. Indeed, most of the discussion at last week's “consultation” concerned acquisition financing, presumably a hot topic in these sectors. There was considerable confusion about what version of the latest document from UNCITRAL will be “official” on this issue.

Unfortunately. the Department of Justice, which is leading Canada's participation, has no interest in providing any explanation of the UNCITRAL documents to Canadians and the consultation effort has been invariably been passive, infrequent (only two or three occasions of which I am aware) and on the eve of any of the meetings in New York or Vienna, Consultation requires more than providing a link to UNCITRAL's website.

One would hope that Canada's expert team could provide a brief of a few pages outlining what this Guide and its IP Supplement will do, Canada's role in this process, and why Canadians should be interested. Above all, we need to know the main features of the proposed soft law regime. Surely with all of the expertise our delegation has, and the fact that we Canada has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in providing the chair and other support for this effort, the provision of an explanatory document is not too much to ask. It might even foster investment and innovation.


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