Interview: Director Francis Gurry On Vision, Priorities For WIPO

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In the midst of negotiations in the World Intellectual Property Organization copyright committee, Intellectual Property Watch caught up with WIPO Director General Francis Gurry on 20 July to discuss his vision and priorities for the organisation. Gurry, who took office in 2008 for a six-year term, spoke about rulemaking negotiations, popular IP infrastructure programmes, the coming explosion in trademark law, and calculating the organisation’s development expenditures.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH (IPW): Thank you Director General Gurry. There appears to be a great deal of activity at the World Intellectual Property Organization lately. Can you explain it, and could you tell us about your vision for the organisation, what are the key priorities going forward?

FRANCIS GURRY (GURRY): I think you’re right, there is a lot of activity – positive activity, I would say – which is a very good thing. The most visible area is our normative agenda. And there, the organisation has had a major success with the successful conclusion of the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances. That has injected some enthusiasm and energy into the organisation generally, and I hope, into its normative agenda. The Beijing Treaty was a good thing for performers or actors, it was a good thing for multilateralism, it was a good thing for China, it was a good thing for intellectual property, and it was a good thing for the World Intellectual Property Organization, so it was all-around win.

It happened because we got a good alignment of the stars, in the sense that we had great engagement from the studios, the performers, and the member states – so all of the concerned elements of the productive sector, and all of the member states. That’s a good alignment to have. I hope that translates itself into our future normative agenda. By the way, that was a wish expressed by a majority of delegations in their concluding statements in Beijing.

So if I can jump forward to what’s that mean in terms of the future of the organisation, the big thing that’s on right at the moment, being discussed this week in the Standing Committee on Copyright, is the exception for visually impaired persons and the print-disabled. I am hopeful that we’re going to get another good alignment of the elements. There is still some work to be done, we are not there yet. But I think there is very good engagement from the publishers, there is very good engagement from the World Blind Union, and there is very good engagement from member states, and that’s a reproduction of the successful formula of the Beijing conference. I emphasise that we are not there, but we are all hopeful that the member states will get there by our October annual meeting of the assemblies, to give us a positive decision for this instrument.

Then there are other elements on the agenda. Still in the copyright area, there is broadcasting, the rights of broadcasting organisations. I think it’s a little less mature than the VIP [visually impaired persons], even though it’s been around for long time, but there has been some really good movement on it. There is a proposal that has been put forward by South Africa and Mexico, which I think is going to see a lot of states coalesce around, and there’s another one the table. So what we have to do, I think, is start to get behind a single text and some of the delegations downstairs have already mentioned this. Then beyond a single text, the big question is going to be scope. Traditional broadcasts, retransmission of those on the internet, simulcasts, maybe some special areas, not webcasting generally – this is the area in which further work needs to be done and further discussion. I am very hopeful that we’re going to arrive at a positive result for broadcasting in the course of time.

And then we have designs, a design law treaty proposal. A study has just been published by us, which was asked for by developing countries, to assess the impact. The result of the study is that the design law treaty is not going to transform the world, but it is an improvement that would have a positive effect on small- and medium-sized enterprises. The way to think of it is it’s a business simplification treaty. We have those for the patent law formalities, and trademark law formalities in the form of the PLT, the Patent Law Treaty, and Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks. It’s a logical thing to do it for designs. It is not going to cost anyone anything. On the contrary, it’s going to give a positive, even if low-level, benefit in terms of simplification and improvement in the system. So I hope the organisation may be able to do that. The problem is nobody is going to go to war on the design law treaty, so there’s not much leveraging in it. It’s just something people have to say, yes, we recognise it’s a benefit, let’s do it.

Then I think our other major process that’s out there is traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources, where a lot of work has been done this year, a huge amount of work, three meetings, with progress. Now member states have to decide what are they going to do with this in October. One thing is that they may design a process for next year. This has been spoken about, a series of meetings, to take us through to the position where we can have a result on this. It’s been a long process, patience is wearing thin in some quarters, it’s a complex matter, a very complex matter, but this is something that is of fundamental political significance for this organisation. You cannot overestimate the importance of this process. I think there’s reasons to be very cautiously optimistic that there is movement now.

So those are our main areas in things on the horizon for the normative agenda. In saying that, I’m omitting large tracts of the organisation’s work programme, in terms of the energy that I think is around, which we are seeing in a number of other areas.

We’re seeing it in our global infrastructure programmes, where office automation, office modernisation, programmes and infrastructure are exceptionally popular programmes in over 80 countries, bringing data into our global databases, PatentScope for patents and technology, and global brands database, which are extremely important assets. There’s our whole capacity-building area where the demand on the part of developing countries is almost overwhelming. It’s a good thing, a positive thing. Why is it happening? Because generally speaking, of course we see that technology and knowledge in general is playing a much more important part in economic production, and it’s a spectacle society, an entertainment society, with global connections and the internet, which enhances the use of the creative industries as well. So we’ve got underlying economic and technological factors which are encouraging the use of intellectual property. Intellectual property is the means by which some of these cultural assets and scientific and technological assets can be transformed into commercial assets. And I think most of the developing countries or all of the developing countries are interested in moving up the value chain, looking at ways to add value and intellectual property captures that value-added, and so it’s exceptionally important. So, great demand in that area, which is also a cause of energy, and that’s a real challenge for the organisation because we have to respond to that, and the demands are increasingly sophisticated. They are increasingly tied into the economic strategy of countries, to their industrial strategies, and even the way they see the world. We have to find a way to say … intellectual property has a positive contribution to make to that economic journey that you are making.

I haven’t been comprehensive – for example, we’ve got an interesting exercise on geographical indications, the appellations of origin area, we’ve got an interesting exercise in terms of the revision of the Lisbon Agreement that’s also important. And I haven’t spoken about many of our technical programmes.

I also haven’t spoken about our Global Systems. That’s 93 percent of the income of the organisation. That’s a very positive area. The PCT [Patent Cooperation Treaty] has been a major success internationally, it’s a really successful system. We have of course lots of interesting new products coming on there, in particular what we call e-PCT, which will enable applicants to interact with their files. It will produce productivity gains both for us and for the applicants and for the system as a whole. The only other thing to signal there is that there is a change in the geography of technology production and we would expect China to file more international patent applications under the PCT this year than Germany, moving into third place after the United States and Japan.

But the interesting thing perhaps is to note that the Madrid agreement for the international trademark system is just at the start of a major expansion. This year we have seen Colombia coming in. That’s the first Latin country outside of Cuba. This is a major breakthrough. And we’ve seen the Philippines come in. We’re hopeful that by the end of the year, India, Mexico, New Zealand will all come in. Perhaps Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, they’re looking very seriously at it. Malaysia, Thailand are looking very seriously at it. So we think that the next two years will see the Madrid system transformed into a qualitatively different instrument with much more important global penetration and participation.

The Hague agreement [on industrial design] is less important, and will always be less important economically. But it has its obvious significance and importance. That is the smallest of our systems but I think we will see also there a transformation, a major transformation, but over a different timeframe, namely the next five years is more like how that is going to happen. And there we are hoping to see China, Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States of America all coming into it together with the ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] countries. But that process is going to take a little bit longer, but we will end up in about five years time with a transformed Hague agreement.

IPW: A question on development, how does it work in as a priority? Last year, it was calculated that over 20 percent of the organisation budget went toward development activities. This year, some are looking at the budget calculation in a different way and coming up with a dramatically lower number, and I just wonder if you could explain the approach to calculating that and whether it’s changing.

GURRY: I think what we are talking about is a measurement question. People rightly want to know what does the organisation put into the development process, what is its expenditure. They want to know that because they also want to measure that against the outputs, what we’re getting out of this, what result, and how well that money is used, and what sort of priority development is in the organisation. Our measurement was 21.6 percent. What was the definition we used? Very simple and straightforward. Development expenditure is expenditure where the beneficiary is a developing country and where equivalent expenditure is not available for a developed country. For example, the things we do in the PCT, we do not include as development expenditure even though we do it by way of a training seminar in a developing country or whatever else it might be. Because we also do things for the PCT for developed countries. So it’s a reasonably exclusive definition.

Now there is a discussion going on under the chair of the Program and Budget Committee to review that definition and the chair has put forward a text for discussion which moves slightly away from that definition that I just gave you, which we used, which was meant to be an objective manner of taking a picture of measurement and slightly toward what development expenditure should be. I think that’s the essential difference between what was used and what is being discussed. I’m not so sure the results are going to end up very different, but that’s what the discussion is centring around.

IPW: Thank you.


William New may be reached at

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