World Intellectual Property Organization

Providing premier international IP systems & services

September 2013

An interview with Francis Gurry


Francis Gurry (Photo: Dhillon Photographics)

As countries struggle to secure long-term economic growth and development, innovation and intellectual property (IP) have become priority policymaking areas. With a view to expanding access to IP-related knowledge in support of innovation, WIPO has developed a wide range of business solutions to support national IP offices in overcoming the many and varied operational challenges they face. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry shares his views on the progress made in this important area of WIPO′s work.

What is fuelling the need for a global IP support system?

Over the last 30 years, the basis for value creation has shifted from tangible physical capital to intangible intellectual capital. As intellectual assets become ever more valuable, the IP rights associated with them become increasingly important. At the same time, technology owners are operating in global markets and seeking IP protection in many more countries. The resulting surge in demand for IP rights raises a number of practical questions: How can IP offices cope with bigger workloads and deliver useful and cost-effective services? What types of tools and services are needed to improve the IP system′s overall quality and operating efficiency? How can international cooperation be enhanced to eliminate duplication in the system?

WIPO is developing and deploying various business solutions to support national IP offices in delivering professional, high-quality and cost-effective services. While these offices operate nationally, increasingly, the businesses that use IP operate globally. In this context, WIPO′s role is to help coordinate cooperation among national IP authorities so as to build a seamless, efficient and accessible international IP system that supports modern business needs.

How do you see WIPO′s role in facilitating access to knowledge?

One of the reasons we have a patent system is to get information about technology out into the open. The result is quite remarkable: the patent system has produced the world′s most comprehensive and systematic record of humanity′s technology. A key function of the public authority responsible for the IP system is to make the information the system generates accessible to the public.

One way in which we do this is via WIPO′s free global databases. Our PATENTSCOPE database makes publicly available the technology disclosures contained in some 32.5 million patent documents. And the Global Brand Database now contains over 11 million records relating to registered trademarks, appellations of origin, logos and emblems. We are also working on a global designs database.

WIPO also facilitates access to databases which are normally subscription-based. ARDI (Access to Research and Development for Innovation) and ASPI (Access to Specialized Patent Information) are especially important for developing and least developed countries. We work with leading scientific, technical and medical publishers and with specialized commercial patent information vendors, to provide ARDI and ASPI free-of-charge or at very low cost to many developing and least developed countries.

In 2009 WIPO launched the Technology and Innovation Support Center (TISC) program to develop know-how at the local level to use and extract value from the information contained in these IP databases. TISCs are a gateway to the reservoir of technical knowledge produced by the patent system - as well as to ancillary literature in science, technology and medical periodicals. In cooperation with our member states we have established over 320 TISCs in some 40 countries - in national IP offices, research centers and universities; and over 4,000 people have participated in TISC training programs. We have also launched the eTISC on-line platform to facilitate the exchange of information, ideas and expertise between participating centers and to offer e-learning opportunities.

We are already seeing some spectacular developments, for example, in Morocco, the Philippines, and the Russian Federation, where the buy-in, especially from the academic community, has been tremendous. TISCs have become integrated into national university and research networks and are already changing attitudes to IP within academia.

How is WIPO helping to alleviate the backlog in IP applications?

The backlog in the processing of applications for IP rights remains a challenge. In 2011 (the latest figures we have), estimates showed that the number of unprocessed patent applications worldwide stood at 4.8 million. But there are grounds for optimism. In 2011, the total number of unprocessed applications worldwide declined by 4.9 percent on top of a 3.3 percent decrease in 2010.

WIPO is contributing to solutions through more effective international cooperation. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) - the original work-sharing program in the area of patents - is an enormously successful form of international cooperation. In 2012 some 194,400 international patent applications were filed under the PCT. This year, we expect over 200,000 applications.

We are also rolling-out new systems to enhance international cooperation, reduce duplication of work and improve the quality and efficiency of IP operations: The WIPO Digital Access Service (DAS), for example, offers a rapid, secure, easy, and inexpensive means of exchanging priority and similar documents and between IP offices. The Centralized Access to Search and Examination (CASE) platform facilitates the sharing of confidential search and examination information between IP offices.

CASE creates a more informed basis for taking decisions with respect to patent applications that are filed in parallel across multiple jurisdictions. It makes it possible to see the patent examination work that has been done and the bases for granting and refusing patent rights in other offices. So this will translate into better decision-making by patent authorities, improved efficiency and better quality patents. CASE is a very important and complex part of the global information technology (IT) support system. Its deployment is helping us to better understand what the nature and benefits of cooperation between IP offices can be in relation to IT platforms.

What are the main challenges confronting IP offices in developing countries?

Developing countries face many pressing challenges and have few resources to deal with them. This means that IP is not always the number one priority. As such, IP offices do not always enjoy priority status within government. There is also the issue of capacity. Even with adequate resources and political support, a corps of professionals needs to be trained to operate and support the IP system within both the public and the private sectors. WIPO′s extensive training programs are designed to help address this need.

These offices also face the challenge of building IT capacity to enable timely and cost-effective delivery of their services. WIPO′s Intellectual Property Automation System (IPAS) is an important response to this. IPAS, which is now deployed in various stages in 60 developing countries, puts IP office operations on a modern footing and enables them to plug into global IP networks, including WIPO′s global databases. As it is an immensely popular program, the main problem is finding the resources to keep pace with demand. But I believe we have gone through the toughest stage because many more countries are now familiar with IPAS and can assist us in implementing it more broadly.

How do you see the work of IP institutions evolving?

IP offices have undergone a major transition in recent years. They are moving away from acting as a passive registration authority to proactively supporting the enterprise sector in protecting and monetizing their intellectual assets. WIPO is supporting this transition through its training programs and the implementation and support of enabling tools such as IPAS, DAS, CASE and other modernization programs.

How can individual countries support WIPO′s efforts at national level?

The buy-in to these programs has been extraordinary. If we are to be in a position to satisfy the enormous demand for these tools and services, we need to find an appropriate balance between activities that are best performed by national IP offices and those where international assistance can add the most value. This will make it possible for WIPO to pump more resources into developing the technical infrastructure that is in such demand.

How do you see IP infrastructure developing in the area of copyright?

The implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Disabled adopted in June 2013 is a priority for the year ahead, as is entry into force of the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances adopted in June 2012.

In terms of infrastructure to support the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty, the Trusted Intermediaries Global Accessible Resources (TIGAR) initiative established by member states in 2008 under the Stakeholders′ Platform for Visually Impaired Persons is a powerful vehicle for ensuring better access to published works by the visually impaired community. TIGAR complements the enabling framework established under the Marrakesh Treaty and is helping to improve the availability of works in formats relevant to the visually impaired community. (See Landmark treaty opens doors for the visually impaired).

"One of the major issues in the copyright area is data management because this is the basis on which the global market will be built."

The interesting thing in the copyright world is that most of the infrastructure is in the private sector, whereas in the patent and trademark world it is largely in the public sector. A national copyright office is typically very small and deals mainly with legislative policy questions and voluntary registration where applicable. The day-to-day management of copyright transactions is often undertaken by collecting societies. While collecting societies have rather advanced operations there is no single mechanism to facilitate international cooperation for rights clearance for all categories of rightholders.

In today′s globalized world, there are clear advantages in enabling national collecting societies and other rightholders to interact effectively across an IT platform that provides access to a seamless global digital marketplace. For our part, the WIPOCOS initiative provides collective management societies in developing countries with an IT platform to facilitate participation in the global rights management networks. This is a hugely important area. One of the major issues in the copyright area is data management because this is the basis on which the global market will be built. A lot is already happening, but we will see many more new initiatives in this area, mainly in the creative sector, in the coming years.

Is IT the key to strengthening the global IP support system?

There are many factors involved but IT is a critical part of the public solution. In the 21st century, businesses need to be online to survive and the global IP business is no exception. Providing an adequate regulatory framework and building up the human resource capacity are other core elements. It is also important to have an enterprise sector that is capable of using IP to promote its own interests. But good IT leads to good processes, which in turn lead to a more accessible, efficient and user-friendly IP system.

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