Idris Bids WIPO Farewell; Newly Appointed DG Gurry Outlines InitiativesPublished on 22 September 2008 @ 9:14 pm
Intellectual Property Watch
By William New
Australian Francis Gurry became the next in a short list of leaders of the World Intellectual Property Organization Monday, and promptly signalled a programme of increased multilateralism and bolstered global and local relevance for the United Nations body.
Gurry’s appointment to director general followed an emotional farewell to WIPO by Kamil Idris, who held the top spot for 11 years. The change brought with it a general mood of hope among staff, governments and stakeholders that divisions within the organisation will be put to rest.
Gurry, who will take office on 1 October until 2014, laid out the makings of a diverse programme with several new initiatives aimed at boosting multilateralism of intellectual property policy, and at putting WIPO at the forefront of its field. He plans to announce his detailed strategy on 20 October, consulting with members until a meeting of the WIPO Programme and Budget Committee approves a new budget in December.
Gurry said urgent attention is needed for the backlog in the patent system; the impact of the internet on copyright; counterfeiting and piracy; using intellectual property to reduce the global “knowledge gap” and build capacity in least-developed countries; and lack of protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions (folklore).
Gurry touched on issues of interest to a wide spectrum of stakeholders.
On patents, he said the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which he called “the backbone of this organisation,” is well-suited to address the backlog and problems of quality in patent offices around the world. “The PCT provides a better basis for constructing the future solution than any other one under consideration or in the range of current imagination,” he said.
In copyright, the 19th century Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was one of the origins of WIPO, Gurry said, and in the 21st century WIPO still is the best place for global solutions to be discussed on the digital distribution of creative works. The organisation spent 10 years until 2007 unsuccessfully negotiating a treaty on broadcasters’ rights that was seen as backward-looking, but is now moving into new ideas such as a possible treaty on limitations and exceptions to copyright. He called such a treaty “entirely possible.”
Gurry said the 20th century model of returning value to the creators, performers and their “business associates” is “under the most radical of threats” from digital technology and the internet. He cautioned against an unintentional move by default to a private law system of rights, and gave a nod to copyright holders in pointing out that “in each country, there are many more consumers than creators and performers, making political management of the discussion uncomfortable.”
A new stronger chord was struck by Gurry on the issue of protection against illegal downloading of music and film from the internet, and against counterfeit products. He restated the assertion that organised crime has become a “major participant.” As some nations have begun actively negotiating stronger protections outside WIPO, he said it is time for WIPO to ask whether its role on enforcement should be limited to awareness-raising and training, or a “more robust engagement” possibly with other organisations. The issue is a global one, not regional, he told reporters, and while not closing other efforts, WIPO should become the central point for the process.
Copyright industry representatives told Intellectual Property Watch they welcome more discussion in WIPO about enforcement, but were sceptical of the organisation’s ability to move the issues quickly enough. So they were lukewarm to the idea of a centralised discussion on enforcement in WIPO to the exclusion of other initiatives such as ACTA.
Gurry devoted significant attention to the idea of using intellectual property to reduce the gap in knowledge and increase participation in the benefits of innovation and the knowledge economy.
To this end, he called for translating “political consensus into concrete and effective projects.” WIPO can construct a “global knowledge infrastructure, comprising public, freely available databases of technological and scientific information and operating on common standards for data interchange,” he said.
He said WIPO also could help countries to adopt national intellectual property and innovation strategies, and he plans to boost human and financial resources to the Least Developed Countries Division created by Idris.
Another initiative will be to create an economic research and statistics division to provide member states with impact studies to analyse national processes and new developments affecting the IP world and WIPO.
Finally, he called for the years-long discussion and negotiation about protection of traditional knowledge and folklore to move to concrete outcomes. He did not, however, mention genetic resources.
Gurry said his ideas reflected the views of members and stakeholders. The role of WIPO in policymaking is, “We propose, they dispose,” he told reporters.
New Era of WIPO’s Global Relevance
Gurry also proposed a new division in the secretariat focussing on the contribution intellectual property and WIPO can make within the collective action against these global challenges.
The organisation needs to become more relevant by participating in the global discussion on climate change, desertification, epidemics, access to health care, food security, and the preservation of biodiversity, he said.
“Policies designed to stimulate the creation and diffusion of technology are … directly relevant to the consideration of the ways in which the global community can respond to the problems,” he said. And intellectual property rights exist to stimulate creation and innovation, he said.
The organisation must increase cooperation with other organisations, including UN bodies, Gurry said. He promised to create “trusted communication” between stakeholders and improve organisational communications and dialogue.
The organisation is expected to keep a similar level budget next year as this year, Gurry told the press briefing, as demand for its services is expected to decline with the economic downturn while fees increase, making for a similar level of revenues.
But he expects there to be some new positions to be advertised, such as in economic research and statistical analysis, and scientific skills, as well as “IP experts.” “We need new skills in the organisation,” he said.
Next Round of Political Jockeying
Despite the seeming sigh of relief about the end of the DG race by all those at WIPO headquarters Monday, the next round of political jockeying is only just beginning. There will be several deputy director general positions to be filled – starting with the one Gurry just left open, and several assistant director general positions as well. The process of member states lobbying the director general, Gurry, to have their candidate nominated by him has likely already begun. He will likely suggest names in the new year and the Coordination Committee, WIPO members’ executive body, will likely hold a meeting in May or June to choose. Gurry told reporters that he did not anticipate his vacated position being filled before the committee meeting next year.
There may be other top positions to fill as part of Gurry’s personal cabinet. The transition team that worked to prepare the organisation for a new director general did not focus on decisions, but more practical matters, he said.
A Respectful Farewell
Meanwhile, Idris’s last address at WIPO included a long list of achievements of the organisation under his leadership. Officials gave Idris an honourable farewell despite the disruption of his term over a loss of confidence in his ability to govern the organisation.
“Kamil Idris has made WIPO, if not yet a household name, then certainly we might say a famous brand,” said Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, the General Assembly chair. Gurry thanked him and noted that he and Idris were colleagues at WIPO for 23 of Gurry’s 25 years at the organisation.
Idris indicated that he would be returning to Sudan.
Members Look to Future
Brazil, whose candidate José Graça Aranha lost to Gurry by a single vote, 42 to 41, told the plenary that the future director general would have to construct consensus, and made several policy suggestions. For instance, WIPO must work to centralise efforts by governments on enforcement of intellectual property rights, which has become dispersed to places like the World Customs Organization and UN Universal Postal Union. They also urged progress on the Development Agenda, and in the Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.
Up to last week Brazil and a few other nations continued to examine the possibility of requesting a vote in the assembly on Gurry’s nomination. On Friday night, however, a letter of support for Gurry was sent by the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, which includes Brazil. If a vote were held, it would take one-third of WIPO membership to overturn Gurry’s nomination, and sources said that support appeared to be lacking. Asked whether Graça Aranha would receive a promotion in WIPO, Idris simply said there have been no decisions and that he is a “valued colleague.”
Pakistan, whose candidate Masood Khan placed a competitive third in the nomination process, spoke on behalf of the Asian Group and praised Gurry, noting “with satisfaction that the cloud of uncertainty that had settled over WIPO for the last year is finally lifted.”
United States Ambassador Warren Tichenor, on behalf of the Group B developed nations (which led the push for leadership change), thanked the staff of WIPO for enduring an “often time tumultuous year of transition.” With Gurry, he said, “brighter days are ahead.”
William New may be reached at email@example.com.
Categories: News, Access to Knowledge, Copyright Policy, Enforcement, English, Patent/Design Policy, Technical Cooperation/ Technology Transfer, Traditional and Indigenous Knowledge, United Nations, WIPO