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

2011 Address by the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – September 26 to October 5, 2011

Your Excellency, Ambassador Uglješa Zvekić, 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 Zvekić, in extending to you a warm welcome to this session of the Assemblies of the Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Let me congratulate Ambassador Zvekić on his appointment as Chair and say how much I am looking forward to working with him over the next two years. I am very confident that he will be able to steer the meetings of the Assemblies to successful outcomes on the many issues that lie before them. Allow me also to thank the outgoing Chair, Ambassador Alberto Dumont, for his dedicated service over the past two years and for his advice and guidance over that period.

I have distributed this morning a detailed report on the main achievements of the Organization over the last year. I shall not repeat the contents of that Report in these remarks. Rather, I would like to take the opportunity to comment on three broad areas or developments that I believe deserve special mention.

The first area is the financial condition of the Organization, which is always and naturally of primary concern to the Member States. I would like to assure you that it is also of primary concern to the Secretariat. Without sound finances, the work program of the Organization is impossible to undertake, let alone achieve.

The income of the Organization results, as you know, from the market use of the services that the Organization offers through its Global IP Systems - the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Madrid System for marks, the Hague System for designs and the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center. In 2011, demand for our services in these systems has returned to pre-crisis levels and started to advance beyond them. International applications under the PCT, the Madrid System and the Hague System have increased by 9.58%, 7.4% and 21.5%, respectively. Revenue has not increased by a commensurate amount, however, because of the adverse impact of the sharp appreciation of the Swiss franc, an impact that will be corrected, for the future, as the adjustment mechanism foreseen for such currency fluctuations takes effect towards the end of this year.

A lengthy and very productive discussion has taken place between the Member States and the Secretariat in preparation for, and during, the meeting of the Program and Budget Committee on the question of how to approach estimates of market activity for the coming biennium in view of the financial and economic uncertainty that pervades the current global economic outlook. I would like to acknowledge how helpful this discussion has been. We have maintained our forecast of an increase in revenue of 4.7% because this is what the data are telling us at this stage. We also believe that there are sound reasons why the data say this, namely, the increasing rate of investment in intangibles, the multipolar nature of economic growth and changing patterns of use of our Global IP Systems. Nevertheless, out of respect for those who were less optimistic, we proposed to lower expenditure to the level of a 3% increase only. Furthermore, we undertook to monitor very carefully the data and to adjust when as and when they begin to tell a different story. We will keep the Member States closely informed of any evolution in the situation. I would like to thank the Member States for having agreed to this compromise and I look forward to the approval of the draft Program and Budget for the next biennium on these terms later this week.

The second area that I should like to mention is the completion of our new building. We shall launch it officially this evening and celebrate it as an architectural object then. Here, I would like to speak of its organizational significance. As you know, this is a project that has been around for a long time - since the early 1990s actually. The new building is now complete and some 500 staff have been re-located from rented premises to it. It is a wonderful working environment and the staff response to it has been very positive. A great many of my colleagues worked to achieve this over the past three years. The successful completion of the building gives us confidence that we are able complete a major project on time, on budget and with some style. We intend to repeat that experience with the New Conference Hall, on which work has begun, with the aim of holding the meeting of the Assemblies in it in 2013.

The last area of special mention is the Organization’s normative program. The past year has seen positive outcomes in a number of areas. A breakthrough was achieved on audiovisual performances and a recommendation will, I hope, be approved this week to convene, or to re-convene, a diplomatic conference for which the vast part of the subject-matter has already been agreed. This breaks a deadlock that has lasted for 11 years. In the same Committee, the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, a major advance was made towards agreement on the content of an international instrument for improving access to published works on the part of the print-impaired. A new work plan was also agreed in the area of the protection of broadcasting organizations.

Great progress has also been made in the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). Texts have been prepared and have been actively negotiated. The terms of the renewal of the mandate of the IGC for the next biennium were agreed by the IGC and are before the Assemblies for approval. It is the first time that the IGC itself has reached agreement on the renewal of its mandate without having to appeal to the Assemblies to help it to do so.

Other areas where progress has been made include the work on designs in the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, the adoption of a substantive work program by the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents for the first time in a number of years and
the proposed revision of the Lisbon Agreement on the International Registration of Appellations of Origin.

It has been noticeable in all the meetings that produced these results that the atmosphere amongst Member States has greatly improved. Delegations are very constructively engaged in looking for solutions. A nascent confidence in the Organization’s capacity to agree is appearing. We can only rejoice in this development. While it is fragile, it is momentous and I would like to thank all Member States for the extraordinary engagement that has made this possible.

One might say that confidence in the Organization’s capacity to develop the international legal framework is not only welcome, but also necessary, in view of the magnitude of the challenges that face the rapidly evolving world of intellectual property (IP). Everywhere one looks in that world, one sees challenges. That is not necessarily a negative thing. Challenges arise not just from difficulties, but also from change, most notably, for IP, the broad transition to economic systems in which intangible assets are increasingly the target of investment and the source of wealth generation.

Of the many challenges for IP that spring to mind, let me mention three that I believe will be amongst those that dominate the landscape in the coming years.

The first is the management of demand or the management of the volume of IP applications that are being filed around the world. With over 1.2 trillion United States dollars being invested worldwide every year in research and development (R&D), it is hardly surprising that the number of IP applications continues to rise. We should see this as a long-term trend, even if the trend is subject to a temporary slowdown in the present economic context. Let me give you two sets of figures to illustrate the trend. In the United States of America, the first patent, under the current numbering system, was issued in 1836. In 1911, the one millionth patent was issued. In 2011, the eight millionth patent was issued. In China, in 1989, 9,659 patent applications were filed, together with 48,411 trademark applications and 158 industrial design applications. Twenty years later in China, 241,367 patent applications, 795,759 trademark applications and 367,613 industrial design applications were filed.

These examples from the world’s largest economies are mirrored in many other economies. The direction is clear. So too, probably, is the objective that we would all like to see attained, namely, cost-effective, simple, accessible and efficient IP systems that deliver quality IP titles and that serve the interests of innovation. What is less clear is how we are going to get there. The answer to the challenge is likely to be a complex one, involving action on many fronts, including more efficient use of WIPO’s Global IP Systems, some legislative action, work sharing arrangements and improved technical infrastructure. But tTo develop the answer, the international community is going to need an advanced capacity to agree.

A second major challenge is the migration of all content to digital formats and the Internet. Many of the artefacts of our culture, including CDs and DVDs for music and films, newspapers and perhaps, eventually, books are endangered species. One estimate sees the newspaper becoming extinct worldwide by 2040 or 2050. I do not cite these developments to deplore them. I cite them to recall that we are not far away from a world in which the vast majority of our sources of cultural nourishment, other than live entertainment and personal interactions, will be available only in digital formats and through the Internet. A world where musical, audiovisual and literary cultural creations are content and their expression is virtual is not a distant reality.

We are all aware of the impact that this transformation is having on the world of copyright. Many governments are actively exploring approaches to the challenge, some of which are very exciting. Like the challenge of demand management, the solution is likely to be a complex one, involving law, infrastructure, cultural change, institutional collaboration and better business models. Like demand management again, there is a sense of urgency and the solution will require a deep engagement and commitment to find agreement.

The third challenge that I would mention is the enhancement of the capacity of the least developed and developing countries to participate in and use the IP system for encouraging innovation and cultural creativity. This will continue to be an area of special focus for the Secretariat. We have made some progress in improving the delivery of our capacity-building services by introducing strategic planning and by “mainstreaming” or having all the services of the Organization address the capacity of developing countries in their delivery. We have also developed a number of databases, platforms and services that increase the opportunity for developing countries to use the knowledge and information generated by the IP system. We have office automation and modernization projects in over 50 countries, with 40 more countries awaiting such projects. But we are aware that there is room for more improvement and we look forward to working with the Member States to effect that improvement.

Let me conclude by expressing my thanks to all my colleagues in the International Bureau for their dedication, hard work and professionalism throughout the past year. I believe that we have achieved a great deal, which I hope that my written report demonstrates. This has been their achievement.