Interview with Geoffrey Yu, Deputy Director General WIPO24/03/2006 by Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You also have the opportunity to offer additional support to your subscription, or to donate.The views expressed in this column are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors.In the Expert Views column: Intellectual Property Watch sat down recently with Geoffrey Yu, Deputy Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), to discuss the development agenda, technical assistance and relations with non-governmental organisations. Yu is responsible for the economic development sector, which oversees the current negotiations for a WIPO development agenda.INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH (IPW): One of your areas of expertise is development issues, and there is now discussion on other ways WIPO can address these issues. From a secretariat standpoint, what is the significance of these talks?GEOFFREY YU (GY): I would say that the discussion is a good development, because it brings to the fore a lot of issues that countries have on their minds. There are countries that are quite aware of what they wish to get out of the IP system, and there are others that have a partial picture. So the debate, since it brings to the fore everything that is relevant, will now enable everyone to see the global picture. Global in the sense of the subject matter and all the related issues. It also brings together all the players at the international level, governments first and foremost, ourselves as the leading partner since it is in one of our forums, other IGOs [intergovernmental organisations], and then NGOs [non-governmental organisations] both those that have a long-standing tradition of following WIPO’s work and an emerging new set of public interest NGOs. So it’s a very good thing.IPW: What could be the possible impact on WIPO’s activities? What is your understanding of how this could impact what you do?GY: I think the best thing that could happen would be if this brings about better international awareness, cooperation and coordination across the range of subjects that we are dealing with and that discussions on the subject are rational, balanced and reasoned, based on actual experiences on the ground. The great strength of WIPO and of the secretariat is that it has long years of experience in dealing with very different national and regional circumstances. We are in many ways best placed to work with governments on the ground. Governments come to us – willingly, and in many cases, enthusiastically – which encourages and motivates us, and we respond in the best way we can. The secretariat is committed to helping governments in the best way possible.IPW: How would you describe the role of the secretariat in these talks?GY: The secretariat’s role is very clear. It is neutral. Neutral as to the process and to what will be the eventual results of the debate, and the decisions that will be eventually made. At the same time, I think the secretariat has the responsibility to, where appropriate, set the record straight. It is incumbent on the secretariat to, as much as possible, share information on what it is doing in the countries, in the capitals, with the people who are engaged in this dialogue. I don’t mean only representatives of governments but also the NGOs, the civil society NGOs in particular. As for civil society NGOs, we would encourage them to get in touch with the secretariat to ask what it is actually doing before they make judgments about the substance of what the organisation does, not to mention the results of what has been done.Let me give you an example. I think it is inaccurate and incorrect for some civil society NGOs to immediately lay responsibility at the doorstep of the organisation whenever governments enact legislation which according to those civil society NGOs are not in the countries’ own interest, without, as far as we are aware, asking the governments why they have chosen to take that particular route to enacting their legislation, and without asking the organisation what role it played, if at all, in the lead-up to such legislation, to then publicly accuse the organisation of giving bad or inadequate advice. This is neither fair nor correct to the governments or the organisation.IPW: One of the suggestions that has been made is that the majority of WIPO’s technical assistance is carried out in a way that would more strongly favor those who have intellectual property to protect rather than advising or encouraging smaller countries that might not benefit as much as they would if they were helped to understand the flexibilities available to them.“I think it is inaccurate and incorrect for some civil society NGOs to immediately lay responsibility at the doorstep of the organisation whenever governments enact legislation which according to those civil society NGOs are not in the countries’ own interest”GY: I don’t think that is at all the case. We make a lot of efforts now advising least developed countries which do not, as yet, have a critical mass of intellectual property that is indigenous to them. It is for this reason that we are constantly out in the field to help them identify areas where the potential is more evident, and to work with them to see how they can transform that potential into reality and to create and accumulate their own intellectual property. That requires a lot of awareness-building first and foremost among the decision-makers, and by this I mean the ministers and the heads of departments, not only the officials who are actually administering the IP office. The decisions in such countries often come from the top, in respect of the support and allocation of resources in particular. I have visited a number of these least-developed countries. I will name just a few. In the past year or so, I have been to Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Benin. We are also reaching out to least-developed countries in Asia. I mention Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Cambodia, where we are investing a lot of time and resources to help them.IPW: What is the message to these countries? Is it about enforcement of intellectual property rights?GY: Our first focus when we work in the countries that I’ve named, for example, is on awareness-building among the different sectors and levels of society and at different levels of decision-making so that they know what IP is and how they can use it. The second focus is on training. The third focus is on strengthening institutional capacities, by which I mean not just strengthening the IP office, but those government departments that should be part of the national IP landscape and which may not be involved thus far, such as the ministries of health, culture, trade and industry and so forth. Enforcement comes in. But for them, using IP for economic gain is a top priority, given their stage of development. Naturally, when we talk about laws, we talk about respect for those laws and their effective enforcement.Let me give you an example of what we are doing in Ethiopia, where we are trying to help create intellectual property value. About half of the economy of the country is based on agriculture. Its largest and most important research institute is the agricultural research institute. We have just started a national project funded by WIPO which has two aspects. One is to provide this research institute with the capacity to use the IP system in order to manage the results of its research. The institute is doing some interesting and original research. We have been talking with the director general of that institute, as well as with the deputy prime minister, who is also the minister of agriculture, both of whom I had the pleasure to meet, in order to build the capacity for them to decide whether, with the results of the research, they would like to license in, license out, create startup companies, or share the research results freely within the agricultural sector. That is for the institute to decide.This is one aspect of our advice and support in Ethiopia. The other aspect is that we are undertaking with them a national survey of the traditional knowledge accumulated over centuries in the country in technology related to farming, because a lot of the farming is still traditional. But there has not been, so far as we are aware, full documentation or an inventory of those techniques or know-how. So we plan to initiate an identification and documentation exercise with the national authorities. The two aspects of the project will complement each other and we are confident that it will serve the country by improving agriculture revenue. This is a good example of what WIPO is doing on the ground.IPW: From your seat at the front of the room observing the negotiations on a development agenda, what would be your advice to the negotiators in the room to bring about the best possible outcome?GY: Well, I would suggest that everybody get together to take incremental steps. The participants talk about IP as an accumulation of small, incremental steps. Nobody disagrees, whether it’s civil society NGOs talking about the public domain and its input to future incremental steps or the proponents of IP protection. The best way to go forward is to constructively examine those issues and ideas which have the best chance of meeting broad consensus and which are realizable in the foreseeable future. Even if such broad consensus is not yet here, we hope that member states achieve it, so that work can commence on implementing the consensus decisions that have been reached, using the resources at the disposal of WIPO.IPW: On the resources issue, I’d heard some concern that resources might be used as an argument by those opposed to a development agenda progressing or significant change to the WIPO management structure, as an excuse not to make real changes. Do you see resources as a real limiting factor on the proposed development agenda?“[The] characterization of pro-IP and anti-IP is too simplistic, because most people accept… that IP can be a good thing”GY: First, no member state is against a development agenda. On the contrary. At the same time, the resources which developing countries, especially least developed countries, need on the ground are practically limitless. They require more resources than the organisation can provide. So we are talking about enabling the organisation, with the resources it has, to respond better to those needs on the ground, as well as some new ways of working in the organisation as a whole. One of the organisation’s primary and urgent tasks is delivery of goods and services on the ground to governments and other sectors in the developing world. So we hope that the current dialogue will enhance the confidence and the trust that the secretariat enjoys today with governments and stakeholders on the ground.IPW: The move at WIPO has been toward allowing more groups into the room and into the discussion, which add to the debate about the bigger picture and the meaning of the IP system for developing countries and others. But what you are saying could be conveyed as more discussions about technical assistance.GY: As I said at the beginning, it is useful to talk about, to re-examine the whole philosophical underpinning of the IP system. While this discussion is going on, WIPO must continue to support governments and stakeholders whose main preoccupation is to use intellectual property to create employment, improve incomes and boost trade without neglecting the social and cultural dimensions or public policy concerns. Work on the ground is immediate, the ongoing discussions will need more time.IPW: Would you oppose a decision by member states to substantively transform the mandate of WIPO?GY: There are today 111 proposals so far tabled by countries. The decisions regarding them can and will only be taken by the governments of our member states. Some of these deal with the mandate of WIPO.IPW: Any secretariat would obviously accept whatever outcome its member states arrived at, but do you not favour one outcome over another? You are not talking to member states, playing any sort of role trying to influence one outcome over another?GY: The secretariat is neutral as to the process and the outcome. At the same time, many countries are concerned the debate will not in any way disrupt the flow of activities which WIPO is carrying out and that the outcome will in fact mean support which would be even more substantial, effective and efficient. If rules and practices have to be changed and new ones introduced, this will take place in the course of time after agreement has been reached by the member states. The common concern is finding the right balance between the allocation of time and resources to this important debate, I will characterize this as an important debate, but it is a debate that runs parallel to our work on the ground.IPW: In Geneva, I have sometimes heard there are supposedly two camps, pro-IP and anti-IP. Do you see the world in that way, and how do you finesse the notion that the WIPO message to a developing country would always be that ‘IP is good for you.’GY: The IP system, I think many people will agree, was based on a balance of incentives and obligations and responsibilities. So if you have the right balance, then it is a very good instrument. But obviously people don’t agree on what is the right balance, particularly today. But that said, I think your characterization of pro-IP and anti-IP is too simplistic, because most people accept, including I would say the civil society groups, that IP can be a good thing, but they are concerned about certain aspects and certain applications that have sprung up over time.I like to use from time to time the following imagery to characterize the discussion that is ongoing. Some people are looking today at IP as content in a container or a vessel, and the vessel is half-full. They say that as it’s only half-full, what can be done to bring it to the brim so that there is a full vessel. These people then proceed, within the rules that exist today, to try to bring that about. On the other hand, there are other people who say, why is the vessel half-empty when it should be full. There could be something wrong with the container, it must be leaking somewhere or maybe the container is not the right one so it should be replaced, that is, the rules should be reset. It is a question of the approach one chooses to take.IPW: How does the development agenda link in with the talks at WIPO about patent harmonization, such as in the open forum [held in early March]?GY: The forum could be seen as a side effect or product of the development agenda discussion. The public forum is a good development, not least, for people in Geneva. WIPO has held public forums in the capitals. For example, when the government of a developing country is about to finalize a new law, it sometimes asks WIPO to jointly organize public meetings to discuss the content of that law and to receive feedback from the national stakeholders. This is the kind of event that does not often take place here in Geneva. We started with a public forum last year in May on IP and development within the context of the dialogue on a development agenda for WIPO. Today, there are proponents saying that in all discussions in WIPO on substantive intellectual property legal standards, there should be a development component. There is thus a link.IPW: Would you like to mention the significance of the document WIPO circulated setting out technical assistance projects it has done?GY: It is information that perhaps we should have made available earlier but we felt that most governments, especially the ones most directly concerned, would already have been informed about what we were doing with their nationals in the countries. Obviously this is not evenly the case. So the document has been welcomed and the secretariat will henceforth ensure that such information is regularly provided and updated, both on the WIPO website and in paper form. Of course, such information, for practical purposes, is brief, but anybody is welcome to come to us for more details.IPW: In your time at WIPO, how has your view on the IP system and the organisation changed? How have you and the position you hold evolved?GY: Well, I joined the organisation at the very end of 1981, when it was very hard for us to get doors to open to talk about intellectual property and development. We faced a different set of challenges at that time, and the countries that I personally worked with then were Asian countries. In the 20-odd years that I have been with WIPO, there has been a dramatic and positive change in mindset in those countries and we at WIPO are very encouraged.Today we are faced with a different set of challenges. As far as those developing countries in Asia are concerned, they are already on course, and many are at cruising speed, some accelerating more than others. Now much attention is focused on IP in African countries, Arab countries and Latin American countries. IP in the African countries is also something rather long-standing because there was a colonial system, but it was not then appreciated as a tool for development. Today we are working with all of them to realize real value from their IP systems. Since resources are varied and priorities and conditions are different from one country to another, in working with them, WIPO has to be constantly flexible in its approach.It has been a very satisfying career for me. Otherwise I would not have stayed for so long and would not have retained my commitment and enthusiasm for the subject. In my whole career in WIPO I have always been working with IP for development. It has been ever-demanding and rewarding at the same time.IPW: Thank you.Geoffrey Yu is Deputy Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), responsible for the economic development sector, which oversees the current negotiations for a WIPO development agenda. Yu, a Singapore national and former government official, has been with WIPO since November 1981, and has served as senior program officer for Asia and the Pacific, special assistant and director/adviser to the director general, and assistant director for global communications. He was most recently assistant director general for copyright and related rights. Yu studied at the University of Singapore and Oxford University.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Related"Interview with Geoffrey Yu, Deputy Director General WIPO" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.