2012 Address by the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – October 1 to 9, 2012

[Check against delivery]

Your Excellency Ambassador Uglješa Zvekić, Chair, WIPO General Assembly,
Honorable Ministers,
Your Excellencies the Permanent Representatives and Ambassadors,
Distinguished Delegates,

It is a pleasure for me to extend to all delegations a warm welcome to this session of the Assemblies of the Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It is very pleasing to see so many delegates in attendance. I believe that we have over 1,000 delegates who have registered.

The 12 months since the last meeting of the Assemblies have been a good year for the Organization. For a start, the financial condition of the Organization remains sound despite a challenging external environment. The use of the Organization’s Global Systems reached record levels in 2011. Although the rate of increase is more modest in the first half of 2012, demand continues to be such that we are largely meeting our budget estimates. This provisional result is a strong one considering the fragility of the world economy and the uncertainty and lack of confidence that prevails in relation to it.

The strong result seems almost counter-intuitive. What accounts for it? I believe that there are several causes. One is the frequently observed shift in the geography of economic and technological production, which has created new sources of growth when traditional sources have been performing less strongly. China1, the Republic of Korea2 and, in a more limited way, a range of emerging economies3 have been increasing their use of intellectual property and WIPO’s Global Systems.

Another reason is the changing pattern of patenting behavior, where we see a greater international approach to patenting, reflecting market globalization. In Japan, for example, the number of national patent applications is falling, but the percentage of them that is converted into international applications is rising significantly4.

But the most important reason, I believe, is what has been called the innovation consensus5, the growing agreement around the world that innovation is the foundation of economic success. This has led to rapidly increasing levels of investment in research and development6. Likewise, it has led to the adoption of strategies by all the major economies to improve their innovation ecosystems. While many parts of a successful innovation ecosystem, such as a good education system, lie beyond the competence of WIPO, intellectual property is an essential part of such an innovation ecosystem. IP captures the economic value of innovation. It provides a secure environment for taking an idea through the complex journey to commercialization.

Since innovation is one of, if not the, most important means of establishing competitive advantage, it follows that IP, as the capturer of the value of innovation, will often become the battleground for competition. This is what we are witnessing with the so-called “patent wars” in the smart phone industry and, more generally, in the ICT sector, both areas where investment in innovation has been considerable and where it has been innovation that has enabled market leadership to be established and the accompanying rewards to be harvested.

I believe that these developments are game changers. Geographically, economically and strategically, the position of IP has changed fundamentally over the past 20 years. If we continue to use reference points from a different game that was played in a former era, we will no longer be able to follow the play. This means many things, but, specifically, for WIPO, I would like to suggest that it means three things in particular.

In the first place, the position of IP as a battleground for intense competition reinforces the need for a rules-based international system. Rules should provide an even playing field and should save us from the temptation to lapse into forms of technological protectionism or mercantilism. WIPO has a long history of multilateral rule-making and it was a wonderful thing to see that tradition affirmed in Beijing in June this year with the conclusion of the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances. The Beijing Treaty is the first treaty on substantive intellectual property law to be concluded since 1996. The event was wonderfully hosted by the Chinese authorities and was characterized by a tremendously constructive spirit of engagement on the part of all Member States. I would like to express the deep appreciation of the international intellectual property community to the Government of the People’s Republic of China for its generous hospitality and impeccable organization.

It was very noticeable that, in their concluding statements at the Beijing Diplomatic Conference, most delegations expressed the hope that the spirit of the Beijing Conference would be carried over into the rest of the normative agenda of WIPO. A number of items on that agenda are now approaching maturity and it is hoped that the 2012 Assemblies will develop a clear path forward for those items. In particular, I urge Member States to endorse the proposed road map for a new international instrument on improving access to published works on the part of the visually impaired and the print disabled.

I would also like to urge the Member States to move towards a diplomatic conference to conclude a new treaty on design law formalities. This is not a substantive treaty, but a business facilitation treaty that simplifies formalities.

An international instrument on intellectual property and genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions is a major priority for the Organization. Progress has been made over the past two years, but there is still some distance to travel. The immediate task before the Member States is to design a process for the next twelve months that will lead to a positive outcome and result at the 2013 Assemblies. To achieve that outcome, an intensive process and a great deal of commitment and engagement on the part of all delegations will be required.

There are other areas on the normative agenda that are being addressed, but I shall not mention them now. They are expressions of the same need and the same challenge, namely, the challenge of maintaining and developing a rules-based international system that is relevant to an environment of increasingly intense competition.

A second challenge for the Organization thrown out by the changed environment of IP is prioritization. Demand for the services of the Organization is almost overwhelming. Yet we do have limited resources and we cannot do everything. I believe that this means that we shall have to be, as an Organization, more disciplined in our program choices and more cost-effective in our operations. The demand is genuine and reflects real needs, but choices will sometimes need to be made.

Amongst the new priorities that are emerging are two that have been raised frequently in the consultations with Member States that preceded these Assemblies.

The first is the establishment of new external offices for the Organization. This is an item that has been the subject of consultations over the past three years. Quite a large number of Member States have offered to host new external offices. It is clear that we cannot have an unlimited number of them. But there does appear to be considerable support for a limited strategic network of offices that would add value and presence to the Organization’s mission, expand the use of the Organization’s Global IP Systems and, thus, its revenue base, and enable the Organization to deliver its services in a more cost-effective and cost-efficient manner. I shall not rehearse the arguments here, but I believe that we should advance on this question in a cautious and measured way. We have, over the past year, strengthened the operations of our existing external offices in a number of ways and I believe that this action has produced convincing results.

The second new priority frequently expressed during consultations was the importance of finding ways to involve the enterprise sector more effectively in our work. No one is speaking of finding ways to involve them in making decisions or policy. But there seems to be a widespread view that the Organization could listen to, and learn from, the developments that are occurring in a rapidly changing technological and business environment of innovation and the creative industries.

Let me come back to the new environment for innovation and move to my last point in relation to it. It concerns the developing and the least developed countries. The new environment has created new opportunities for some, which have been able to position themselves in global innovation value chains. For others, the new environment is extremely challenging, especially given the speed with which it is evolving. It will require the Organization to respond in new ways to be effective in assisting capacity building. While we are conscious that there is much room for improvement, I believe that we have been able to create several new services that seek to lift our performance to a higher level. These services include:

  • our program to modernize IP offices and to enhance their capacity to use ICT in support of IP administration, where we have projects in some 90 countries;
  • our program to establish Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISCs) in order to enhance access to, and the capacity to use, science and technology databases, which have been set up in nearly 30 countries;
  • our partnership with publishers and commercial database vendors to bring leading scientific and technical journals free of charge to LDCs and at very favorable preferential rates to middle income developing countries (ARDI (Access to Research for Development and Innovation) and ASPI (Access to Specialized Patent Information)); and
  • WIPO Re:Search, a public-private partnership aimed at accelerating discovery and building innovation capacity by sharing IP and expertise for research in the areas of neglected tropical diseases, malaria and tuberculosis.

Details on these and our other programs for developing countries and LDCs are contained in my written Report, which was distributed this morning.

Let me conclude by extending my thanks to the Chair of the General Assembly, Ambassador Zvekić, for his leadership, support and hard work throughout the past year.

I should also like to pay tribute to the staff of WIPO. I believe that the staff have accomplished many things over the past year that have moved the Organization forward. We have many fine staff, who work in a highly professional, enthusiastic and dedicated manner. I am deeply grateful to them.

  1. International patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) from China increased in 2011 by 33.4%.
  2. PCT applications from the Republic of Korea increased by 8% in 2011.
  3. By way of examples, on a much lower base than the bases of China or the Republic of Korea, in 2011 PCT applications from Brazil increased by 17.2%, from India by 11.2%, from the Russian Federation by 20.8% and from Turkey by 12.7%.
  4. In 2011, the number of patent applications filed in Japan decreased marginally from 344,598 in 2010 to 342,610, whereas the number of PCT applications filed from Japan rose by 20.5%.
  5. National Academies of Science, Rising to the Challenge: U.S Innovation Policy for the Global Economy.
  6. “Worldwide R&D expenditures totaled an estimated $1,276 billion (purchasing power parities) in 2009. The corresponding estimate, 5 years earlier in 2004 was $873 billion. Ten years earlier, in 1999, it was $641 billion. By these figures, growth in these global totals has been rapid, averaging nearly 8% annually over the last 5 years and 7% over the last 10 years.” (National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2012, Chapter 4).