World Intellectual Property Organization

Maintaining relevance in a changing world: an interview with WIPO Director General Francis Gurry

September 2012


(Photo: Dhillon Photographics)

Ahead of WIPO's annual meeting of member states from October 1 to 9, 2012, Director General Francis Gurry shared his views with WIPO Magazine about some of the key challenges and opportunities that are likely to influence the future evolution of the international intellectual property (IP) system.

What are the key priorities for the Organization moving forward?

The Organization's priorities lie in four main areas - maintaining relevance, ensuring the viability of WIPO's global IP services, providing effective support to improve the participation of developing countries in the IP system and serving as a major provider and coordinator of global IP infrastructure.

The overarching objective in a rapidly changing world, characterized by major shifts in the use of technology, is to maintain the relevance of WIPO as the global forum for IP issues. We have to maintain our role in economic rule-making. The recent conclusion of the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances (the “Beijing Treaty”) was an important breakthrough, but we have to ensure that the multilateral system that WIPO oversees continues to deliver on the other issues that are reaching maturity. This is particularly important now when so much is happening in the field of IP within so many different policy-making spheres at national, bilateral, regional and multilateral levels.

We also need to ensure the viability and primacy of WIPO's global IP services by expanding their geographical coverage and the range of services offered. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), with 146 contracting parties, is a truly global system. The next three years will see a marked expansion of the Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks. Similarly, over the next five years, membership of the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs is expected to grow.

Significant progress is being made to ensure continuous improvement in our services. The e-PCT platform, for example, which provides secure electronic access to files relating to international applications filed under the PCT, is proving very popular. The Madrid information technology (IT) renovation project is also well under way, and a raft of useful tools and services are coming online.

A major task is to provide effective support to improve the participation of developing countries in the IP system. As countries seek to add value to their national resources and intellectual assets, IP becomes increasingly relevant and our member states' needs evermore sophisticated. The Organization, therefore, needs to ensure it delivers the required levels of service and assistance.

Finally, we need to serve as a major provider and coordinator of global IP infrastructure to improve the efficiency with which the IP system operates, as well as its broad accessibility and use, and where appropriate to advance defined public policy goals. Significant progress has been made in many areas.

What is the significance of the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances?

The Beijing Treaty is a good thing for actors, for IP, for WIPO, for China and for multilateralism. It is a win all round. Although member states have concluded three other treaties since 1996, these address areas of procedural law. The Beijing Treaty is the first substantive IP law treaty in 16 years.

It is a further step in the development of the international legal framework for copyright and more broadly to re-kindling confidence in the treaty-making process. The Beijing Treaty brings the rights of audiovisual performers and actors into line with those available to authors under the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) (1996) and to musicians, recording artists and recording organizations under the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) (1996).

The remaining issue to address in completing the 1996 platform is updating the rights of broadcasting organizations. In the July session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), member states signaled their willingness to move forward on this issue, which is very promising. I hope that we can achieve the same alignment of interests (between business, civil society and governments) on this question, as we did in concluding the Beijing Treaty. Civil society and the private sector make an enormous contribution to the treaty-making process. At the end of the day, member states will only move forward on an issue when they detect a level of comfort on the part of the people they represent. If one of the major interest groups is not on board, achieving international agreement can be very difficult.

What is the status of discussions relating to improved access by the visually impaired to published works?

There is growing consensus that an international agreement in this area is a priority. I am hopeful that member states will open the way to moving forward on this question at the forthcoming meetings of WIPO Assemblies.

This is first and foremost a disability issue. It stands on its own merits, and international agreement to facilitate access to published works for the print disabled would reinforce the international recognition given to disability in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

What needs to be done to move the copyright agenda along?


WIPO Director General Francis Gurry opens a World
Intellectual Property Day exhibition showing the
intellectual property behind Steve Jobs' innovations.
(© WIPO 2011. Photo: Emmanuel Berrod)
Video, Steve Jobs' IP on Display at WIPO Video on YouTube
A strategic approach to IP is extremely important. IP has a fundamental role to play in the economy and in society at large.

The international legal framework for copyright will continue to evolve in line with the issues that member states identify as ripe for multilateral action. The real breakthrough for copyright, however, is going to be in the area of infrastructure. As a matter of public policy, we have to support the development of an efficient global digital marketplace. We have to provide the legal architecture to satisfy the growing expectations of consumers whose use of increasingly sophisticated technologies enables them to consume creative works via the Internet at will.

I think we can all agree that people want an efficient legal, global, digital marketplace. While there will be a certain amount of experimentation, there are many interesting ideas circulating, such as the development of an International Music Registry, or a Licensing Hub as recommended in the Hargreaves report in the UK.

Is there a role for public-private partnerships?

There is enormous scope for public-private partnerships, both in terms of building IP infrastructure in general, as well as in developing practical solutions to advance certain defined public policy objectives as demonstrated by WIPO Re:Search and TIGAR. There is growing interest in such arrangements within the private sector, and I think this will increase in the future.

Why is activism important within the copyright debate?

Copyright has served society and the economy very well, but the digital environment poses a serious challenge which is not going to disappear. We have to actively find ways to maintain the central mission of copyright - that of ensuring a viable economic existence for creators and creative industries while making creative content broadly available - in the digital environment.

There is growing anti-IP sentiment in some quarters. Is this a cause for concern?


(© WIPO 2012. Photo: Emmanuel Berrod)

I think it is quite normal, because as the role of knowledge in production becomes increasingly important, the rights in relation to knowledge become more economically and socially significant. As that process unfolds, different sectors of society become aware of what is happening and start expressing their views about these new developments.

This is all taking place against a backdrop of extraordinary technological change. Technology is encroaching on every aspect of our lives, wherever we live, and at some point we will inevitably come up against the IP rights associated with its use. Broad, democratic debate on these issues is, I believe, a perfectly normal and a very healthy thing.

There is also a general democratization of the policy and treaty-making processes. Civil society is demanding greater transparency from its political representatives, including in the field of IP policy-making. WIPO is responding to this by, for example, webcasting the proceedings of its committees. This is a positive development and has been well received.

Winning the hearts and minds of the public is a significant challenge. It requires convincing people that a short-term disadvantage, in terms of paying for the use of someone else's property, is worth the long-term advantages of a sustainable creative culture and innovative economy. We need to create greater public awareness about the role and value of a balanced and robust IP system and the many advantages that can flow from it.

What are the main factors that will shape the future IP agenda?

The IP agenda is already being shaped by the dramatic shift towards Asia in the geography of economic and technological production. The implications of this for IP will be radical and far-reaching. The traditional binary view of the world as developed and developing is no longer tenable as there is much greater diversity in the enjoyment of economic wealth than that view suggests. The increasingly rapid pace of technological change is also a major challenge.

In this context, it will become increasingly important for the international IP community to be selective in identifying those essential framework issues around which international agreement is achievable. In the 19th century, for example, national treatment was an essential framework issue that required attention. We need to identify equivalent rules for today's globalized digital world. The view that every issue has to be dealt with by means of a multilateral legal framework is not realistic or helpful. We would do well also to explore the merits of other complementary means of advancing public policy objectives, including public-private partnerships.

What is your key message to member states going forward?

A strategic approach to IP is extremely important. IP has a fundamental role to play in the economy and in society at large. The IP system balances the rights and interests that exist in relation to innovation and creativity. As these intangible elements of the economy become more valuable, so the IP rights associated with them become more important. If we are to ensure a functional knowledge economy, we have to pay attention to these issues.

What do you most like about your job?

Intellectual property is concerned with change in that it deals with the new, whether in the form of new cultural creations or new innovations. My role offers an extraordinary opportunity to meet a wide range of people that are intimately involved in these change processes. This is a rich and wonderful reward.

 
Progress in improving the efficiency, accessibility and use of the IP system: some key developments

Global Brand Database

Launched in March 2011, WIPO's Global Brand Database offers free-of-charge access to some 2 million records relating to internationally and nationally protected trademarks, appellations of origin and armorial bearings, flags and other state emblems as well as the names, abbreviations and emblems of intergovernmental organizations. It provides a one-stop shop for searching brand-related information from multiple sources by means of a single, user-friendly screen. In addition to WIPO's own brand-related data collections, the database also includes those of Algeria, Canada and Morocco. A number of other countries are expected to add their data collections in the near future bringing the number of records to over 10 million.

The Global Brand Database includes a number of powerful search features making it quick and easy for users to find the information they require. These include:

  • search by description of images;
  • auto-suggestion of potential matching terms;
  • fuzzy and phonetic term matching;
  • summaries of matching documents in multiple categories, including graphical representation of countries of origin and designations; as well as
  • detailed result lists or quick lists of brands.

The service is an integral part of WIPO GOLD, a free public resource, which provides quick and easy access to a broad collection of searchable intellectual property (IP) data and tools.

The ongoing development of WIPO GOLD and the Global Brand Database is part of WIPO's commitment to narrowing the global knowledge gap by improving access to and use of IP information.

 

Madrid system: New online tools

The Goods and Services Manager (G&S Manager) assists trademark applicants and their representatives in compiling the lists of goods and services that they need to submit when filing international applications under the Madrid system.

Madrid Portfolio Manager is a web service that offers holders of international registrations and their representatives secure access to their international trademark portfolios.

Madrid Electronic Alerts is a free “watch” service designed to inform anyone interested in monitoring the status of certain trademark registrations. Subscribers receive daily e-mail alerts when relevant changes are recorded in the International Trademark Register.

Madrid Real-time Status (MRS) is a stand-alone tool that allows applicants to track the status of international applications or requests in real time.

 

PATENTSCOPE

The PATENTSCOPE search engine offers free access to over 14 million patent documents, including 2 million international patent applications filed under the PCT. It contains the patent data collections of 29 national offices as well as those of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), the European Patent Office (EPO) and LATIPAT, a platform that provides patent information in Spanish and Portuguese.

PATENTSCOPE features a number of powerful tools, including cross-lingual search and machine translation. By simply entering a term or a phrase in one language, it is possible to retrieve relevant patent documents in multiple languages.

 

WIPO CASE

The WIPO Centralized Access to Search and Examination (WIPO CASE) system is designed to facilitate the sharing of confidential search and examination information between IP offices, and to help enhance the quality and efficiency of search and examination and minimize unnecessary duplication of work. Using this platform, patent examiners from one group of participating offices can access the collection of patent search and examination reports shared by the office group.

The platform is intended for use by groups of IP offices that mutually recognize their search and examination work. Patent documents and data shared though WIPO-CASE can either be hosted by WIPO or the digital libraries of national offices.

Initially developed to support the work sharing efforts of the IP offices of Australia, Canada and the UK, WIPO-CASE is now being used or evaluated by other regional groupings of IP offices.

 

WIPO Digital Access Service (DAS)

The WIPO Digital Access Service (DAS) offers a secure, easy, rapid and inexpensive means of exchanging priority documents and similar papers between IP offices.

The system enables applicants and offices to meet the requirements of the Paris Convention for certification in an electronic environment. Traditionally, applicants have been obliged to request certified paper copies of documents from one office and then to submit them to other offices. The DAS allows applicants simply to request the first office (known as the depositing office or the office of first filing) to make priority documents available to the system and then to request other offices (accessing offices or offices of second filing) to retrieve those documents via the service. This exchange of documents takes place electronically.

At present, the service is used for priority documents relating to patent applications. Ultimately, it will be extended to other IP rights, such as industrial designs and trademarks, once the participating offices have made the necessary operational and technical changes.

 

WIPO Re:Search

Less than a year after its launch, the pioneering WIPO-led public health initiative known as WIPO Re:Search has spawned its first research partnerships. In August 2012, AstraZeneca concluded agreements through WIPO Re:Search with iThemba Pharmaceuticals (South Africa), the University of California, San Francisco (USA) and the University of Dundee (UK) to study novel treatments for tuberculosis (TB), Chagas disease, sleeping sickness and schistosomiasis (snail fever).

“Agreements such as these to transfer technology from one partner to another are an important measure of success for WIPO Re:Search,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.

Dr. Manos Perros, Head of the AstraZeneca Infection Innovative Medicines Unit, said: “As an industry, we have a great opportunity to make a real difference in global health through WIPO Re:Search by addressing the needs of the considerably underserved population suffering from neglected tropical diseases.

Launched at WIPO in October 2011, WIPO Re:Search is an open innovation platform that brings together a broad coalition of public and private-sector partners to catalyze research into the discovery, development and delivery of drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), malaria and TB. Since its launch, WIPO Re:Search has grown from 30 to 50 members from all five continents.

Under the terms of WIPO Re:Search, organizations agree to make available IP assets (such as pharmaceutical compounds, drug discovery technologies, regulatory data and know-how) to qualified researchers anywhere in the world on a royalty-free basis, provided the research is focused on NTDs, malaria and TB. Any products resulting from this research will also be royalty-free for sales in least developed countries (LDCs).

NTDs are endemic in 149 countries and affect over a billion people worldwide. By providing a searchable, public database of relevant, available IP assets, information and resources, WIPO Re:Search facilitates new research partnerships. BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), the Partnership Hub Administrator, actively identifies partnership opportunities between members and assists collaborations to drive the development of new products for these diseases. These efforts led to the conclusion of these first results.

 

The Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources (TIGAR) project

The Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources (TIGAR) project is an unprecedented initiative designed to facilitate access to published works by the visually impaired and print disabled. Approved in November 2010, the project enables publishers to make their titles easily available to trusted intermediaries (TIs) that create accessible formats which they share among themselves and with specialized libraries. So far, eleven TIs have joined TIGAR and exploratory discussions have been held with TIs from China, India and Korea. Also, more than 24 right holders, mainly publishers, including Elsevier, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury and SAGE have signet an MOU in relation to TIGAR.

It is estimated that just 5 percent of the world's 1 million print titles published every year are accessible to the approximately 340 million people around the world living with print disabilities. Specialized organizations, such as libraries for the blind, adapt these books into accessible formats (such as Daisy, Braille and audio), at great expense. TIGAR is the result of close collaboration between WIPO and organizations representing authors, publishers and blind and low vision persons, including the World Blind Union (WBU) and the International Publishers' Association (IPA). WIPO provides the technical support for the project which promises to expand the range of books available in formats accessible to the print disabled.

 

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