Pressures High On Eve Of WIPO General Assembly; DG Under Fire 20/09/2007 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment 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) Much of our best content is available only to IP Watch subscribers. We are 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. By William New Tensions are high at the World Intellectual Property Organization leading up to the annual General Assemblies next week with member states discussing the fate of the WIPO director general, who developed country member states claim has lost the ability to govern the organisation. Other issues under debate include budget overruns and surpluses and the UN body’s programme for the next two years. An effort has been made by some countries, led by the United States, to hold a discussion at the high-level assemblies on questions around WIPO Director General Kamil Idris’ alleged decades-long misreporting of his age on official documents. On Thursday, the European Union requested a meeting with Idris to suggest he step down, an EU government official told Intellectual Property Watch. Last week, another developed country ambassador informed Idris of a loss of confidence in his ability to head WIPO. A US request was made to put an item on the draft agenda of the 24 September to 3 October annual General Assemblies to consider an internal audit report on the age issue. On 14 September, the draft agenda was changed to include this item (number 12). The EU ambassadors in Geneva agreed this week that they do not support Idris, the EU government official said. On Wednesday, the Group B developed nations at WIPO met and the United States signalled it still intends to pursue the agenda item, the official said. On Thursday, the Portuguese ambassador on behalf of the EU (Portugal currently holds the presidency) requested a meeting with Idris to urge him to consider stepping down. The EU’s message to Idris will suggest that his position and the credibility of the organisation have been compromised by recent events, the official said. Meanwhile, at the 11-14 September Program and Budget Committee meeting, which was extended by a day, talks took place on renewal with stronger terms of reference of the WIPO Audit Committee and the WPO Internal Audit Charter (under which the report was conducted), an independent personnel review that found problems, WIPO’s reported surplus and overspending from the 2006-2007 biennium, the proposed 2008-2009 budget, and US and Brazilian proposals to reduce fees charged for WIPO’s services. The Push to Oust Idris During the past 24 years, Idris repeatedly signed official documents showing his birth date to be nine years earlier than it is, and may have moved up the ranks at WIPO based on the error, according to the report of the independent internal investigation (IPW, WIPO, 20 February 2007). Intellectual Property Watch received a demand from WIPO to take down the report shortly after posting it earlier this year. Idris acted last year to change WIPO records to show he was actually born on 26 August 1954 (IPW, WIPO, 13 July 2006). But at least 12 official UN travel and identification documents issued for, and signed by, Idris since 1983 showed his birth date as 26 August 1945, according a copy of the confidential report. The report was prepared by the WIPO Internal Audit and Oversight Division at the request of the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit in June 2006, after press reports that Idris’ age had been changed in the UN system. The report was dated 29 November. Warren Tichenor, US ambassador to the UN in Geneva, requested the agenda item in a 24 August letter sent directly to Idris. According to government and WIPO officials, the WIPO secretariat replied saying it would decline to change the agenda, citing the report’s confidential nature. But the United States and possibly others insisted that under WIPO rules of procedure (Article 5.4) any country may raise an item for the draft agenda and it must then be changed to reflect the proposed item, they said. The WIPO secretariat was not successfully reached for official comment on this story. But Intellectual Property Watch spoke to many officials from WIPO and its member states for this story. Idris also may be receiving some additional pressure from past news reports (IPW, WIPO, 7 June 2005) and other analyses (IPW, WIPO, 21 December 2005) about possible improprieties at WIPO during his term (he was elected in 1998 [correction: 1997]), and the independent “desk-to-desk” personnel review. The review will be raised at the assemblies as well, and was discussed at the Program and Budget Committee meeting. The renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the WIPO Audit Committee is another possibly related item for the assemblies. The Audit Committee was said by one official to have been given the confidential report (which has been closely held by WIPO as it was confidential), but this could not be confirmed. Opponents hope that with enough pressure Idris might quietly decide to step down before his term ends and by doing so, avoid such a high-profile discussion during the assemblies, according to government sources. Some said it could be considered potentially embarrassing to Idris and WIPO if a discussion at the ambassador level is held on the report. But he reportedly has been holding fast. Some developing country governments say the age issue is not sufficiently of concern to lead to the WIPO head’s removal, and fear an unfair smear campaign by developed countries. Other officials point to United Nations rules and past dispute settlement cases that show removal of employees for similar transgressions. Idris may also face national-level legal action for possibly falsifying applications to authorities in obtaining visas, sources said. Opponents also suggest that Idris would not have risen to his level in the organisation and received the benefits had he not from the start made himself appear more experienced and competitive. Helping or Harming WIPO? Developing countries are generally unenthusiastic about targeting a leader from one of their own, especially in an organisation that handles rights mainly owned by developed countries and that was led for many years by a developed country official before Idris. Several officials said there may be discussions about the vote related to countries’ goals or views outside of WIPO, such as the World Trade Organization or World Bank. Some developing country officials and advocates suggested the Idris age issue could be an unnecessary distraction to the General Assemblies’ more important issues, such as endorsing the Development Agenda. “I would prefer this matter not contaminate the work of the General Assemblies,” Argentine Ambassador Alberto Dumont told Intellectual Property Watch. Idris has reportedly indicated privately that he does not plan to stay on after his term expires at the end of 2009 after two six-year terms. Member states before he was elected voted to limit directors general to two terms, but the required majority of states have not ratified that change for it to take effect. Those seeking to remove him have indicated that they would not be opposed to another candidate from Africa for the remainder of his term. But they may have hopes to install a developed-country official as of 2009. The environment within WIPO appears to be rather divided, with a small number of officials in the WIPO hierarchy said to be Idris’ closest advisors and supporters, among them Director of Cabinet Michèle Weil-Guthmann, Comptroller Carlotta Graffigna, and Sherif Saadallah, director of the Office of Strategic Use of Intellectual Property for Development. Opponents appear to be largely from developed countries, though not only. Agenda Item Fight Looms The assembly agenda is in draft form until the meeting when, after the election of officers, the member states vote on it, sources said. Discussions about the agenda among countries are continuing up to the meeting, they said. Developed countries such as Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Australia, and several in the European Union apparently support the Idris agenda item, but there are some developed countries, particularly the United Kingdom, that did not push for this approach, perhaps because they see the potential for more harm than good for the organisation in holding such a high-profile discussion, sources said. According to several government sources, the secretariat agreed on Friday to allow the agenda item. The draft agenda was updated on 14 September with the addition of the request to discuss the report and “appropriate follow-up thereto.” But it appears that there may be a number of votes especially from Africa to keep the Idris item off the agenda. The WIPO director general is originally from Sudan and retains support in the region. When the report on his age emerged, the secretariat informally suggested racial motivation was involved. On 5 September, WIPO held a retreat with Geneva-based ambassadors of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) “for an in-depth review of topical issues on the international intellectual property agenda,” according to WIPO. “The meeting provided a forum for representatives of the OIC group to exchange views on matters of particular interest to their economic, social and cultural development,” it said. Campaign Season Begins The authority for hiring at WIPO, up to the level of director general, rests with the member states, through the Coordination Committee, which meets during the assemblies. For the new committee chair, the director general’s office has proposed Amb. Franciscos Verros, the Greek ambassador to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva. But it is unclear, should it become relevant, whose jurisdiction the firing of a director general might fall. To fill out the rest of Idris’ term, should it arise, Nigeria is a prospect, sources said, as might be Geoffrey Yu, who until this year was a deputy director general and has kept his hand in WIPO activities from his native Singapore. It appears that potential candidates for the director general job have been on the campaign trail at least since mid-summer. The list of names at times seems endless as governments from every region are informally floating top officials’ names alongside a line-up of existing senior WIPO officials. Internal WIPO names include Yu, and Deputy Director General Francis Gurry, who heads patent issues and oversaw the desk-to-desk review last year that showed noticeable problems in the organisation. It also seemingly includes a number of other senior WIPO officials. A third contest causing some discussion is who will chair the General Assemblies, elected at the start of the meeting to take over from the Philippines. The Algerian ambassador is reportedly in contention. Algeria has been seen as friendly to Idris. Budgets and Fee Reductions Meanwhile, at the PBC, the United States proposed cutting fees by 15 percent after WIPO’s preliminary financial report for 2006-2007 showed a surplus in the tens of millions of Swiss francs. A letter from developed country industry groups dated 6 September was sent to Idris and circulated at the PBC meeting offering “strong support” for the 15 percent reduction. The letter was signed by BusinessEurope, the Japan Intellectual Property Association, the Intellectual Property Owners Association (US), and the American Intellectual Property Law Association. Brazil at the PBC proposed creating a plan to further cuts fees for developing countries. Negotiations are ongoing. Also at the PBC, governments recommended the adoption of the revised budget for the 2006-2007 biennium (which reflected overspending) with the exception of a proposal to create three new security posts, and with the caveats that it not impact the 2008-2009 budget nor the follow-up actions that may come from the desk-to-desk review. The secretariat’s proposed 2008-2009 budget was also recommended for adoption with admonishment that WIPO stay within the approved budget next time, and with a list of possible changes from decisions at the General Assembly. These include: possible allowance for changes to reflect the agreed proposals for a WIPO Development Agenda, possible patent fee cuts, and the desk-to-desk review. The committee also took note (without action) of the US proposal for a 15 percent reduction, a briefing by the WIPO Audit Committee chair, and the proposed use of available financial reserves for medium-term projects (such as earmarking an extra 5 million Swiss francs for the Development Agenda, and a 15 million Swiss franc down payment on two-year construction of a new approximately 130 million Swiss franc WIPO office building to begin early next year. William New may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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