WIPO Director General Underlines Role of IP in meeting Global Public Policy Challenges

Geneva, September 22, 2009

Director General Francis Gurry

In his opening statement to the annual meetings of the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Director General Francis Gurry called on member states to work together to ensure that the IP system serves as a stimulus for developing solutions to the global challenges confronting policy makers across the world.

Mr. Gurry welcomed over 40 ministers to the first ever high-level segment of these meetings.  He said their participation reflected the expanding recognition of “IP as a major means of creating a secure environment for investment in innovation and creativity and for the diffusion of innovative and creative products and services.” Mr. Gurry appealed to the Organization’s 184 member states to find a “balanced way forward” in advancing the Organization’s norm-setting agenda, and urged them to demonstrate flexibility and understanding in addressing the issues before them. 

Mr. Gurry outlined progress in organizational renewal under the Organization’s strategic realignment program, and outlined the various initiatives that have been launched to develop a service-oriented culture within the Organization. He went on to outline some of the major challenges confronting the Organization and the IP community at large.

With regard to the impact of the global economic crisis, Mr. Gurry said negative growth rates in the Patent Cooperation Treaty (-5%) and the Madrid System for the international registration of trademarks (-10%) were anticipated for 2009. He noted that while demand was expected to be sluggish through 2010, he was confident that 2011 would see positive growth in demand for the Organization’s services, which generate 93% of the Organization’s revenue. Mr. Gurry noted that, despite the short term effects of the economic crisis, “it is clear that the long term trend is one of intensified use of the IP system in which knowledge and education are at the center of the economy, development and social change.” 

In addressing the question of development and poverty reduction, Mr. Gurry said improving the capacity of developing and least developed countries (LDCs) to benefit from the knowledge economy was the principle underlying the adoption of the WIPO Development Agenda.  “We are now at the stage where we must transform that idea into an operational reality,” he said. “That transformation will occur only if there is a collaborative effort and engagement on the part of the member states and the secretariat.” Mr. Gurry stressed the need for member states and the secretariat to “be ambitious and identify and execute projects that make a difference.” He said WIPO’s traditional capacity-building activities will endeavor to “create better linkages between the economic objectives, priorities and resources of countries” ensuring that “IP speaks the language of the economic circumstances and the social context that it addresses.” 

The Director General appealed to member states to find common ground in advancing the normative work of the Organization.  Failure to do so, he said, would damage multilateralism and open the way to bilateral and plurilateral arrangements at a time when use of technologies is increasingly global. Mr. Gurry said, “Global use of technology calls for a global architecture of norms to ensure that technologies are indeed available everywhere.” 

“If we are to retain in this Organization our relevance in rule making we must be able to deal with all the frequencies of the spectrum of technological development,” Mr. Gurry said. “We must be able to make rules both for the latest developments in technology and for traditional knowledge systems   . . .  the reality of a global organization is that we must be able to deal with all parts of the spectrum.” In this regard, he called on member states “to show flexibility and understanding” in renewing the mandate of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) on terms that will allow tangible results at the international level.

On the question of copyright in the digital environment, Mr. Gurry outlined the “tumultuous developments” that were occurring which signaled “a fundamental challenge for the institution of copyright”. He said that while the objective of copyright was to “provide a market-based mechanism that extracts some value from cultural transactions to enable creators to lead dignified economic existence while at the same time ensuring the widest possible availability of affordable content,” the question was “how to realize that objective amid the convergence of the digital environment.” 

The Director General called on member states to consider a “global consultation or reflection” in the coming year on the fundamental question of how to finance culture in the 21st Century. He noted that piracy was a global issue and called on governments to reflect on “how we can make copyright work in a digital environment where there is no difference in quality between the original and the copy and where the means of reproduction and distribution are available to everyone at insignificant cost”.

In relation to the new strategic objective “Coordination and Development of Global IP Infrastructure” to build platforms to exchange and disseminate best practices, the Director General cited some early concrete results. These include digitization programs for IP offices in developing countries and the establishment of technology and innovation centers as well as database tools offering access to scientific and technical publications free-of-charge to least developed countries. 

Within this context, the Director General referred to the PCT roadmap which aims to improve the functioning of the PCT, a procedural treaty that links together the patent offices of the world. He added, “it’s about finding ways to increase, on a voluntary basis, work sharing to decrease unnecessary inefficiencies and to improve the quality of the output of the international patent system and thereby contribute to management of the unsustainable backlog of 4.2 million unprocessed patent applications around the world.”  Mr. Gurry stressed that this “is not a norm-making exercise”. He referred to various plurilateral initiatives to address this question stating that the “objective of the roadmap is to bring all of these initiatives under the multilateral umbrella of the PCT.”

Lastly, the Director General highlighted WIPO’s renewed engagement in debates on global public policy issues, such as climate change, stating that “technological innovation will be central to global efforts to deal with the challenges of climate change.” He added “the experience of the IP system and the IP community in the creation and the commercialization and the diffusion or transfer of technology can make a very valuable contribution.” Mr. Gurry also referred to the establishment of the stakeholder’s platform to improve access to published works by the visually impaired.

Mr. Gurry thanked the outgoing Chairman of the WIPO General Assembly, Ambassador Martin I. Uhomoibhi, who is also Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, for his work as Chair. Ambassador Uhomoibhi urged delegates to work together to find solutions to the challenges facing WIPO and the IP community in general. The newly elected Chairman of the General Assembly, Ambassador Alberto Dumont, who is also Argentina’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva, said the Assemblies provide an opportunity to identify strategies to meet new challenges and urged delegates to collaborate, demonstrate flexibility in their discussions to support the common goal of ensuring that WIPO continues to develop programs for the general good. 

Ambassador Dumont welcomed the convening of a high level ministerial segment, which is taking place for the first time in WIPO’s history. This, he said, is a “clear demonstration of the importance which IP has gained in the area of public policy and therefore at the high level of decision making in our governments.” The high level segment is a unique forum for the almost 50 ministers who honor us with their presence – will identify opportunities and challenges which policy makers have to address in the future.

The Assemblies are meeting in Geneva from September 22 to October 1, 2009 to review the Organization’s status of activities and discuss future work.

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