Francis Gurry led WIPO as Director General from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2020.

2010 Address by the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – September 20, 2010

Video, WIPO Director General highlights Link between Innovation and Development, September 2010, new windowVideo

Your Excellency, Ambassador Alberto Dumont, Chair, WIPO General Assembly,
Honorable Ministers,
Your Excellencies the Permanent Representatives,
Distinguished Delegates,

It is a pleasure for me to join the Chair of the General Assembly, Ambassador Dumont, in extending to you a warm welcome to this session of the Assemblies of the Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). We are honored and delighted that so many Ministers have chosen to join us this morning and I extend my thanks to them for including WIPO and this meeting in their demanding schedules.

I am not going to report orally to you this morning on the outcomes achieved in the Organization’s programs over the past 12 months. I have provided a separate written report and there will be other occasions during these Assemblies to review the performance of the Organization. Rather, I should like to use my time this morning to address briefly the theme of the High Level Segment of the Assemblies and its relationship to this Organization’s work.

Innovation is central to economic growth and to the creation of new and better jobs. It is the key to competitiveness for countries, for industries and for individual firms. It is the process by which solutions are developed to social and economic challenges. And it is the source of improvements in the quality of all aspects of our material life. It is also the reason why we have intellectual property. Innovation and its many benefits do not come without the investment of time, effort and human and financial resources. Intellectual property provides the incentive for that investment.

Innovation is rarely a simple process. Recognition of the complexity of the journey from idea to commercial reality has led to a broadening of the understanding of what constitutes innovation. In addition to technology, it is increasingly acknowledged that organizational, marketing and design knowledge are vital to successful innovation. Intellectual property is also central to these other dimensions of the enlarged notion of innovation, particularly in the form of marks and geographical indications, the main vehicles for establishing image and reputation in the marketplace, and design, the means for product differentiation.

WIPO provides essential services to support innovation in its broad sense through its Global IP Systems - the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Madrid System for marks, the Hague System for designs and the Lisbon System for appellations of origin. Protection for an increasing share of the world’s innovative effort is sought through these systems. The systems enjoy widespread and expanding membership, reflecting their status as examples of successful international cooperation. And from an Organizational point of view, they are the strategic assets that generate over 90% of the revenue of the Organization and enable the Organization to offer a wide range of capacity-building and other development services.

To maintain their position as essential support services for global innovation, these systems require continued investment in information technology, in order to remain competitive in relation to alternatives routes to international protection; continuous improvement of the experience that they provide for users; and the continued interest and support of Member States in the further development of the systems. In this last respect, it is very gratifying to note the important efforts led by Member States in the Working Groups that deal with these systems, where major initiatives are under discussion to invigorate each of these systems and to extend participation in them.

The landscape of global innovation is a very dynamic one. Both the geography of innovation and the means by which innovation occurs are changing, over-turning many of our assumptions and expectations. Whereas, 20 years ago, one might have expected innovation to emerge from the United States of America or Europe, in one in three cases one may now expect it to emerge from Japan, the Republic of Korea or China. Trends in economic growth and patterns of investment in education and research and development make it clear that further continental shifts will occur in the world of innovation and that the map of innovation will continue to evolve.

In a similar vein, 20 years ago, one might have expected innovation to emerge from the laboratory of a single enterprise or institution. Since then the networked and connected economy has unfolded. Information travels more quickly and more cheaply and through a variety of networks that did not previously exist. This has fostered movement to open innovation, where enterprises and institutions look outside themselves to satisfy their innovation needs by forming partnerships and cooperating with a variety of actors, including competitors, collaborators, suppliers and customers.

These changes in the landscape of innovation have given more importance to WIPO’s role in developing and coordinating global infrastructure. In the past, much of the emphasis of international cooperation in WIPO was on the legal framework. No one would suggest that that area is less important today. But the technical framework is an increasingly fertile, if not necessary, additional dimension for effective international cooperation. Let me give you just two examples.

Cooperation in technical infrastructure offers, in the first place, an opportunity to increase the participation of the least developed and developing countries in global innovation and, thereby, to contribute to the achievement of the aspirations of the Millennium Development Goals and the WIPO Development Agenda to reduce the knowledge gap and the digital divide. We have made considerable progress in the past year in enhancing the availability of knowledge, the basis of all innovation. A series of public-private partnerships with publishers and commercial database vendors have been established giving free access to scientific periodicals1 and technology databases 2 for anyone in an LDC, and access at a very modest cost for those in developing countries. Through the Stakeholders Platform, supported by publishers and the World Blind Union, plans are also well advanced for an ambitious arrangement for the distribution of published works in accessible formats for the visually impaired.3 Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISCs) have been established in numerous developing countries as access points and training centers for these scientific and technology databases. We have also worked to connect the least developed and developing countries into global networks, with projects in 71 countries for digitization and office automation.

Cooperation in technical infrastructure can also provide a very effective means of improving both the efficiency of the work of patent offices in support of innovation and the quality of their output. Numerous projects are underway in this regard in member States, amongst groups of member States and in WIPO itself. They concern a wide variety of subjects, such as classification systems, shared availability of search and examination reports and, given the changing geography and, therefore, languages, of technology, machine-assisted translation. In some cases, WIPO is involved in the development of these projects, in others not. Whether or not WIPO is so involved, a key role for the Organization in relation to these projects is to act as a conduit for making their results available multilaterally. In this way, different pieces of global technical infrastructure will be contributed by different offices and groups of offices so that, ultimately, we would have a global infrastructure that is built by all, but owned by none.

The growing importance of cooperation in technical infrastructure does not diminish the importance of cooperation on the international legal framework. Indeed, the success of such cooperation is, to some extent, a test of the relevance of the Organization and multilateralism to the fast-moving world of innovation. Can the necessarily slow processes of multilateralism provide timely and balanced responses to the increasing number of questions thrown up by the pace of technological change? The past year has seen progress in the various WIPO committees that deal with the legal framework. While there is still much distance to travel, there are real possibilities of concrete progress in a number of areas, including access to published works on the part of the visually impaired, audiovisual performances, broadcasting, folklore and traditional knowledge, designs and trademarks on the Internet. I pay tribute to the work of the technical experts in these Committees and to the very constructive and engaged diplomacy of so many of the Permanent Representatives in Geneva in finding ways forward.  Thank you in particular to Ambassador Dumont for leading this evolving conversation on the development of the international legal framework.

I shall conclude by saying that, just as we believe that there is an important role for WIPO in innovation, so too we believe that there is an important role for innovation in WIPO. Like all international organizations, we are challenged by the fast pace of change in the external world. We are endeavoring to respond in a measured, structured and energetic way through the Strategic Realignment Program, on which much progress also has been made in the past 12 months. I should like to pay tribute to my colleagues for their dedication and service.

  1. Access to Research for Development for Innovation (aRDi),
  2. Access to Specialized Patent Information (ASPI),
  3. See