Down To The Wire, WIPO’s Gurry Continues To Catch Flak In US 04/12/2013 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch 3 Comments 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)World Intellectual Property Organization Director General Francis Gurry continues to receive criticism from some quarters in the United States technology and intellectual property sector who say he should not be re-elected for a second six-year term next year. The criticism may be too little too late however, as the deadline for candidates for WIPO director general is 6 December. So far, there are only two other declared candidates: WIPO Deputy Director General Geoffrey Onyeama of Nigeria, and Panama Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Alfredo Suescum, who has served as chair of the WTO Council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Gurry, for his part, is a highly recognised international authority on patents and other forms of IP. There has been some chatter that member states might possibly consider moving the deadline for nominations, or consider splitting the next term of office for director general into two 3-year terms (limiting Gurry to three more years), but none of this could be confirmed by press time. Member states have been unsettled, and at their annual General Assembly in September were not able to agree on the organisation’s budget for the next biennium. The budget and other issues will be the subjects of an extraordinary General Assembly next week at WIPO. Meanwhile, certain members of US Congress, newspapers and blogs have been spinning out items about Gurry, mostly critical, seemingly daily for the past week or so. In some of them, Gurry or his government representatives are quoted in efforts to dispel concerns. The US discussion over Gurry takes on a diplomatic tone around US-Australian relations, as Gurry is an Australian national (who notwithstanding has lived in Geneva for decades). The sharpest complaint in the US relates to WIPO’s shipments of computer equipment to the sanctioned countries of North Korea and Iran, which came to light last year in the political fracas of the US presidential election (though the activities predated the Obama administration). Other concerns that have been raised relate to alleged intimidation and unauthorised investigation of, or retaliation against, employees, and the signing of legal contracts to create WIPO external offices in China and Russia without the prior knowledge of other member governments. On 2 December, US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat representing the technology industry region, sent a reply letter to Australian Ambassador Kim Beazley, trying to separate the issue from Australia, saying Gurry has exhibited “shameful conduct” in his first term in office and must be held accountable. Lofgren’s press release with the letter is here. Beazley had written a letter [pdf] in defence of Gurry, This was in turn a response to a strongly worded letter last week from a bipartisan group of US congressional members who called for Gurry to be replaced. Lofgren said that evidence shows Gurry knew about the shipments and did not inform member states until it came out in the press, and then played down the importance of the actions even though they were serious enough to violate US law. It might be noted that recently, US policies on technology shipments to Iran have been changing in an effort to open the flow of information there. At the time, WIPO explained that such shipments were a typical part of its capacity building for any member state to participate in the IP system, and that such shipments had been going on for years. Those two countries were not explicitly named in the annual report on capacity building provided to member states, however. In addition, the UN sanctions committee review in a quick report found no violation of UN sanctions, but it did not conduct an investigation of its own, but rather just determined that what WIPO said its actions had been would not constitute a violation. Meanwhile, WIPO made changes to its policies in order to prevent such things from happening again. On the establishment of external offices in China and Russia, Lofgren contended with the assertion that member states had been given a signal that it was coming. Some members reacted strongly after the news came out that the deals were signed, not so much opposing those offices but rather calling for a more transparent and inclusive process for choosing where offices are to be located. It is unclear, however, what standard UN practice is for creating external offices. Many UN agencies have them and some appear to open them based on their own decision about need. And on the very sensitive issue of DNA testing of WIPO employees in connection with a letter to Gurry in 2008, Lofgren’s office asked some very specific cross-examination questions to the WIPO director general that if answered would go a long way in settling that longstanding dispute. There also has been discussion around Geneva about alleged emails from Gurry that include disrespectful remarks about delegates, which could cause a stir among governments at the member-state driven UN agency. Lofgren said she and others would consider supporting a different candidate from Australia, if an alternative were put forward. As for the US, the government has been publicly silent on the matter, some say due in part to a division between agencies like the US Patent and Trademark Office (part of the Commerce Department), which might support change, and the State Department, which is not eager to cause friction with close ally Australia. The only potential US candidate that has been mentioned even informally is WIPO Deputy Director General James Pooley, a former Silicon Valley IP lawyer (who donated to Lofgren’s past re-election campaign). But Pooley has not been nominated, and faces challenges of his own in WIPO. Last year, when the Iran-North Korea issue arose, Pooley was among those summoned to a hearing by the irate House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, but was denied permission to go by Gurry. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece questioning Gurry and encouraging Australia to recant. Mary Kissel of the WSJ Editorial Board wrote: “The very concern about Mr. Gurry’s candidacy is that he operates without much transparency and is often at odds with American goals. (After Congress started to investigate his North Korea dealings, Mr. Gurry announced the closing of a 14-person, U.S.-led “innovation division” within WIPO. Coincidence?) What a shame that Australia is supporting this career bureaucrat who could use some adult supervision.” Kissel also conducted a video interview with Fox News Editor-at-large George Russell on the question of why Australia was re-nominating Gurry. The US patent blog IPWatchdog also wrote at length about the issue, raising questions about Gurry’s re-election as well. And perhaps due to the shipments to Iran, or some of the targeted staff under Gurry being of Jewish heritage, some groups and publications oriented toward Jewish issues also have joined the chorus. Geneva-based UN Watch had a sharply worded piece, here, (itself referring to a Tribune de Geneve article), followed by an echo piece on an Australian website called “New and Views from Jews Down Under.” Some patent lawyers in the US have spoken out on the issue but have not been critical of Gurry. Hal Wegner of Foley & Lardner said senior US and European patent lawyers told him they were surprised at the criticism of Gurry, who has done much to advance the global IP system in their view. And outspoken Greg Aharonian, who publishes the Internet Patent News Service, wrote, “more than likely Gurry is doing as well as one can expect, and if no one else serious is running, what the heck, let him be re-elected.” He suggested that those criticising Gurry must have something to gain by doing so. Meanwhile, Gurry has been traveling in various member countries in recent months, and in his visit to Washington, DC in November met with key IP industry associations, such as the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) and the American IP Law Association. The IPO published a note after the visit that steered well clear of any scandal, stating, “Gurry discussed his agency’s programs and answered questions concerning international patent law harmonization, PCT, and industry-WIPO relations. WIPO is planning a series of programs in several countries next year or later to better communicate with IP owners about WIPO’s offerings.” Maybe things will get back to business as usual soon, whatever that term means to each stakeholder. 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 William New may be reached at email@example.com."Down To The Wire, WIPO’s Gurry Continues To Catch Flak In US" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.