In-Depth Interview With WIPO Director General Francis Gurry 28/10/2008 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (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)Francis Gurry became the fourth director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization on 1 October. Gurry, an Australian, is a 23-year veteran of WIPO, most recently deputy director general in charge patents, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre and global IP issues. His full biography is here. Intellectual Property Watch sat down with Gurry in his office this month to ask about changes at the organisation and the future of the IP system, differences from predecessors, development, open source, and his personal management style. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH (IPW): Congratulations on your appointment. The first question that comes to mind is how you expect to distinguish yourself from your predecessors in the position? FRANCIS GURRY (GURRY): I think part of the distinction is made by the external circumstances. It’s a different age, it’s a different time, and there are different challenges from those that confronted each of my predecessors. This, I think, will determine, to a large extent, the distinctions between us. I hope that one of the distinctions might be that the organisation opens up to the many, many challenges that are confronting intellectual property. IPW: How would you describe your personal management style? GURRY: My style tends to be close involvement at the outset, in particular, in terms of ensuring that the division’s strategic thinking is aligned to the strategic thinking of the organisation as a whole. Once I am happy that the division is in a position to achieve its objectives, then I would start a process of building trust in the implementation of the agreed strategy and plans. In a third stage, I would delegate more and more to that area. So, heavy involvement up front is important, then once trust is built, the possibility of delegation is created. IPW: How will WIPO be different with you as its leader? GURRY: Well, I hope it is open to address change, first. Secondly, I hope it will be engaged in the many challenges that face intellectual property, instead of pretending they don’t exist. I’m not saying that was what happened in the past, but, generally speaking, we must be engaged rather than isolated. IPW: WIPO has faced some challenges in recent years with more ahead. What is your biggest concern, and your greatest hope? GURRY: I think they are both the same. My concern is that we have a balanced agenda that gives something to every sector of the membership, and my biggest hope would be that we achieve that. In a multilateral organisation things start to go wrong when the agenda is captured by one segment of the membership. IPW: How are you bringing a new spirit of unity and inclusiveness to WIPO after some years of divisiveness? “I hope that one of the distinctions [from predecessors] might be that the organisation opens up to the many, many challenges that are confronting intellectual property. … The first point is communication.”GURRY: I think the first point is communication, which is extremely important. This covers communication within the organisation – both horizontally and vertically and communication between WIPO and its stakeholders, meaning its member states and the many other important groups such as users of WIPO’s services and civil society or non-governmental organisations. The first area we will focus on in the process of strategic realignment will be communications, including customer service and customer orientation. Secondly, I think the organisation has to look to the future and not to the past. That certainly would be encouraging for both the staff and the member states. We will find our unity in the future. We have been perhaps a little bit internally focussed in the past couple of years, and it’s very important that we recognise that this organisation and its secretariat exist only for its external programmes. That’s why we’re here, and if we focus on this, we’ll find a unity of purpose. IPW: How will financial management and auditing be further tightened up at the organisation, if at all? GURRY: I think that the architecture of financial management and control of WIPO is good, in fact, it’s as good as it gets in the UN system. We have an external auditor, an external audit committee, and an internal audit and oversight division. That’s the appropriate architecture. But the architecture has to be made functional. Life has to be breathed into it. So we need to encourage greater dialogue between these various actors. I’ve just come from my first meeting with the external Audit Committee. It was a good meeting that we had over several days, with a lot of communication. I think that there are also improvements that we can make internally. One that is of concern to both the Audit Committee and to me is that we establish a good system of internal control. IPW: Will WIPO be profoundly transformed by the Development Agenda? GURRY: I hope so. I would say, unequivocally, yes, but it would imply that we have succeeded in a task that is still to be performed. How, you might ask. First of all, the most fundamental change is that it will be a reflex for the organisation to consider the development dimension, and that’s appropriate for a multilateral institution. We have two distinct roles. One is as service provider to the global economy and the other is a development agency. But the development dimension has to be horizontal and, this is a clear message from member states, it has to be mainstreamed across the whole of the organisation’s activities. That’s a cultural change really, and I think that it will occur. In addition there will be specific projects that I hope will give concrete expression to that cultural change. For example, the infrastructure of the global intellectual property system will be, I hope, rendered more accessible with greater participation by developing countries. IPW: What are the key elements/priorities of your platform this year, and in the next biennium (with a new budget)? “[On personal management style:] Heavy involvement up front is important, then once trust is built, the possibility of delegation is created.”GURRY: For the coming year I think there are a series of challenges that relate to the existing intellectual property system. In particular, we have a major question in the area of the management of demand, the excess of demand actually, within the patent system. How do we tackle that from a multilateral point of view? We have major questions and challenges in the area of copyright as we have moved into the digital age. The 20th century business model for copyright, which relied very much on physical packages of creative works, is being rapidly replaced by free-flying bits of information on the internet that represent all forms of creative works. So how do we deal with this, how do we adapt the copyright system so it returns value to creators? Other major questions are counterfeiting and piracy which no longer concern simply the luxury goods industry. They are infiltrating all sectors of the economy, and they pose real risks to public health and safety and to consumer protection. So the question arises: what is the role of the multilateral organisation for intellectual property, WIPO, in this area? Is it simply related to awareness-raising or should we have a more robust role. Then there are a series of challenges we should address which relate to the expansion of the role of WIPO and the intellectual property system to address new constituencies. One of them is the ongoing process for traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, and there we have done a lot of work. I think most of the intellectual and conceptual work has been achieved, but it’s time for us to move to some concrete outcomes. “I think that the architecture of financial management and control of WIPO is good, in fact, it’s as good as it gets in the UN system. … But the architecture has to be made functional. Life has to be breathed into it.”We need, as an organisation, to engage and make a success of the Development Agenda. This represents a wonderful opportunity for WIPO to make a contribution to the reduction of the knowledge gap and the digital divide. So, here, there will be a major emphasis on concrete projects that can give expression to more effective capacity-building activities for the developing countries. And, of course, there is an ongoing dialogue that we need to address about the granularity of the intellectual property system and the extent to which it should be modulated to take account of differential levels of development. That’s an ongoing dialogue and it will be with us probably as a persistent question. And finally, one of the things we will start on in a major way in the coming year is to engage, from the perspective of intellectual property, with the many challenges that preoccupy the global community; challenges of an inherently global nature, such as climate change, desertification, access to medicines, access to healthcare, preservation of biodiversity, and food security. These are all issues that are global in nature and exercise the imagination of the multilateral community as a whole. We have to enter into active engagement with these areas and look at what the specific contribution of intellectual property can be. Humanity has always turned to technology for solutions in the face of global threats and challenges. So, naturally, intellectual property as a system which seeks to incentivise investments and stimulate the creation of new technology, innovation and its diffusion is very pertinent to all of these challenges. I will create a special division to deal with this and we will engage more actively in these areas. To do all of that, of course, – and there are many, many challenges – we need a functional organisation, and for that we will need to embark on a process of strategic realignment of the secretariat. IPW: How do you think WIPO will be different by the end of your term? Where do see WIPO and the global IP system in 10 or 20 years? GURRY: We are edging toward a much more complex system of property rights in knowledge. The contours of that are not very clear to us at this stage, but we are seeing growing complexity within the system. We once had very clearly defined rights – patents, trademarks, copyrights, GIs [geographical indications] etcetera. Now we’re seeing greater complexity both within and between each of these areas as innovation becomes a more comprehensive notion for companies, including everything from technology to branding, positioning to trade dress, to image generally. I think that’s the general tendency, and naturally I would like to see WIPO placed at the centre of a much more complex and richer system of property rights in knowledge. IPW: There seems to be increased regional and local activity in the IP world despite globalisation. Why is a multilateral approach the way to go? “[On Development Agenda impact:] The most fundamental change is that it will be a reflex for the organisation to consider the development dimension, and that’s appropriate for a multilateral institution.”GURRY: The simple answer is that both economic behaviour and use of technology are increasingly global. With regard to economic behaviour, most companies increasingly see the market in global terms. As regards technology use, let me give you an example – we all want our mobile phones to work no matter what jurisdiction we find ourselves in. We don’t want them to be bound by a particular jurisdictional system. So use of technology is globalised. For both of these reasons, economic behaviour and use of technology, the solutions have to be global. IPW: You have been at WIPO over two decades. Can you give any more specifics about whether you have a set of goals for the organisation? GURRY: It’s fair to say without any disrespect for the process that in the multilateral process it’s very difficult to predict outcomes. You can enter with certain objectives, and in the process, the horse will become a camel, and what you find at the end doesn’t necessarily correspond to the objective that you had at the commencement. So I think one has to have a healthy respect for the process itself and its ability to transform outcomes. That said, I think that we have to have outcomes. There are too many questions out there that require answers for us not to engage actively, and we must seek outcomes that are obviously attractive to the broadest possible base of member states. IPW: Member states and others in the IP community are expressing optimism over your arrival but may not all agree in their vision for the organisation. How will you satisfy all of those expectations? GURRY: It’s difficult obviously. I go back to what I said earlier. Since we are a multilateral organisation, I think it’s going to be very important that there be something for everyone. Every part of the membership has to be able to identify with the solutions, and to see that their interests are being addressed by the programme and the outcomes. That, I think, is the objective. Whether we get there is another question. IPW: Under WIPO’s funding mechanism, the developed nations’ private sector pays most of the bills at WIPO. Do they or should they have more say in the policies here? “Everything for me points to an expansion of demand for property rights in knowledge. I think that rather than the age of intellectual property being over, it’s only just beginning.”GURRY: No, they don’t necessarily have more say, but there are natural political weightings that occur in any multilateral process, and a very complex series of mechanisms for compensation for this. That said, WIPO has two distinct roles, as I mentioned earlier: service provider to the global economy and development agency, and the two are compatible. The major consumers of the services are the developed countries because they are the dominant owners of intellectual property rights. That role gives us the financial basis and the expertise, to address development concerns and to seek greater participation in the global economy by developing countries. IPW: Is there a tendency toward a zero-sum situation among nations that if some rise others must fall? GURRY: I think that is a very wrong perception. It’s clearly in everyone’s interest that the less-advantaged nations’ circumstances are improved. That can only generate more trade, more wealth, and more human satisfaction and fulfilment, which is obviously going to pay dividends in terms of peace and cooperation. IPW: WIPO is seen as different from other UN agencies. Could it take greater advantage of being part of the UN system, and how? Should it become more like a UN agency? GURRY: I don’t know what “becoming more like a UN agency” means, but I do think we need to engage more with the UN system. In the UN system … everyone has their own specialty. But there are certain horizontal or all-encompassing themes that are expressed in the [UN] Millennium Development Goals; they’re expressed in the general collective consciousness of the international community. We have to engage with those to a greater extent, and I think that will be a healthy thing for this organisation. IPW: Some say there may be a period of contraction of the IP system, with less patent filings accompanied by higher quality standards, or even that the “age of IP” may be over. How would you see WIPO addressing this? “I do not see [open source] necessarily being in any way antagonistic to intellectual property because many of the platforms of open innovation rely on property rights to secure them.”GURRY: It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that there will be a contraction in demand for intellectual property as consequence of the current global economic turbulence, but I don’t see that as a long-term trend. On the contrary, everything for me points to an expansion of demand for property rights in knowledge. I think that rather than the age of intellectual property being over, it’s only just beginning. We are going to have, as we become increasingly knowledge-based as an economy and as a society, more complexity and more granularity in our property rights system as it relates to productive knowledge. So how do we address that? I hope we address it by being part of that process, and by playing our role to ensure the system does not become too complicated. It has to be accessible and comprehensible to everyone. IPW: Do issues relating to open source or other alternative licensing belong in WIPO? “I think we need to engage more with the UN system.”GURRY: Well, it’s a big challenge and we have to be careful about terminology here. What we are definitely seeing is more use of open innovation. By open innovation I mean that whereas a corporation in the 20th century mainly developed its own answers to innovation through its own internal research and development, increasingly corporations are also looking outside for their answers to innovation, whether through open source projects or patent commons or patent pools, or licensing programmes. This is a general trend. I do not see that necessarily being in any way antagonistic to intellectual property because many of the platforms of open innovation rely on property rights to secure them. Licensing defines who has responsibilities, who has rights… Intellectual property remains an important part of open innovation, and is very relevant. IPW: If one imagines the situation in least-developed countries, and the need for local innovation, is it honestly reasonable to expect these nations which are presented with so many immediate challenges would be able to get on board and that IP could really change things in those countries? “There will be a process of strategic realignment in the organisation, and that process will entail three main, concurrent streams: corporate culture … efficiency of our business processes … realignment of the secretariat.”GURRY: We’re relatively modest about what IP can do, but this is part of the opening of the IP system. Let me give you two examples. One, traditional knowledge systems supply a lot of the innovation needs of traditional and indigenous communities whether through traditional medical systems or traditional agriculture innovations. So we are moving to address how the IP system can embrace traditional knowledge systems. Also, in addition to the patent system, which is aimed perhaps at the higher end of technology, there is a utility model system which has been successfully used by, for example, Japan, China, Korea, Germany. One notices that in the countries that have used utility model systems there is a tendency at the beginning of technological development for a greater reliance on utility models, and as technological sophistication grows, patents are more used and utility models decline in importance. This is part of the complexity of the intellectual property system: if it’s going to really address development, it also perhaps has to provide solutions for different stages of development. IPW: You were called upon to lead a desk-to-desk review of jobs at WIPO last year, which found the need for changes in terms of staffing. Are there changes that you see as a result, should people be concerned about their jobs? GURRY: No, I think the way to see it is that there will be a process of strategic realignment in the organisation, and that process will entail three main, concurrent streams. The first stream will address the corporate culture of the organisation, change management, mainly moving toward a service orientation of the organisation. The second stream will address the efficiency of our business processes internally. The third stream will address the realignment of the secretariat so that it is more responsive to the new strategic goals and programmes of the organisation. In that process, there will be change and change makes everyone uncomfortable. But the process will be conducted in a systematic manner and we’ll do it in a way that [involves] full communication. IPW: You have been associated with the creation of the rise of the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre, making WIPO an internationally recognised centre for domain name disputes. Do you expect any changes to that arbitration system? Do you have any other new ideas where we might see innovations or new projects at WIPO? “We are finding more business in the areas of mediation and arbitration, and I think there are other areas we can look at, for example, the conflicts that are occurring with respect to traditional knowledge or traditional cultural expressions.”GURRY: In the arbitration area, the centre is going very well thanks to all of my colleagues who are managing it, and there are several challenges that will come up in the future. One is the adaptations which are occurring specifically in the domain name system. More particularly, the introduction of new generic top-level domains, internationalised domain names and some of the registrar practices that are out there – these are areas that present challenges for the UDRP [Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy] and its functioning and my colleagues are responding extremely well. A second set of challenges relates to how alternative dispute resolution can be seen as a useful tool for conflict resolution. It is not, and never will be, a complete alternative to litigation – there will always be litigation. However, increasingly corporations are looking to establish a conflict resolution management policy which will have a variety of arms within it of which litigation is one, mediation another, and sometimes arbitration will be one. We are finding more business in the areas of mediation and arbitration, and I think there are other areas we can look at, for example, the conflicts that are occurring with respect to traditional knowledge or traditional cultural expressions. Mediation lends itself very nicely to resolving these disputes which are of often a misunderstanding born of a lack of awareness of the respect that needs to be given to traditional cultural expressions, for example. Mediation, as a voluntary facilitated negotiation, can be a very useful procedure. IPW: Thank you. END Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (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 "In-Depth Interview With WIPO Director General Francis Gurry" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.