chapter  2
40 Pages

Protecting cultural signifi ers as intellectual property

While locals [in Trinidad and Tobago] were led to believe the process involved in manufacturing pan had long missed any chance of being patented, two American inventors have done precisely that.

George Whitmyre, of Elkton, Maryland, and Harvey J. Price, of Wilmington, Delaware, have secured a US patent for ‘the process of formation of a Caribbean steelpan using a hydroforming press’. 1

Commenting on the Whitmyre/Price patent (US Patent No. 6,212,772 B1), Professor Clément Imbert, Registered Engineer and then Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, University of the West Indies (UWI), stated that none of the techniques or processes outlined or detailed in the patent was new. 2 Making specifi c reference to the use of a hydroforming press as part of the process of producing the steel pan, Imbert remarked that although hydroforming was not a very common industrial process, it is well known and well established. ‘It is the preferred method of forming sheet metal to achieve intricate or fi ne detail.’ 3 More importantly, in the mid-1970s, the Steelband Research Project at the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) located at the UWI, used the hydroforming method to form the plain bowl

1 See Terry Joseph, ‘Pan Shocker’, Daily Express , 16 April 2002. The opening lines of the Terry Joseph newspaper article refer to the advice given by the visiting WIPO experts to the then vicepresident of Pan Trinbago, Nestor Sullivan, during the fi rst WIPO meeting held in Trinidad and Tobago in 1983. Another newspaper report refers to the efforts in the early 1990s of the Steelband Foundation, through the then Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, to obtain views on the patenting of the steel pan. WIPO’s response adhered to conventional intellectual property principles. The criteria for patentability were outlined and the steel pan’s failure to meet the novelty requirement noted. Additionally, the inability to name an inventor was also pointed out by WIPO: see Reginald Dumas, ‘Pan-Acea?’, Daily Express , 31 January 2005.