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Acceptance Speech by Francis Gurry on his Reappointment

WIPO Assemblies 2014

May 8, 2014

[Check against delivery] 

Your Excellency Ms. Paivi Kairamo, Chair of the WIPO General Assembly,
Honorable Ministers,
Your Excellencies the Permanent Representatives and Ambassadors,
Distinguished Delegates,

It is an honor and a privilege to be re-appointed by the General Assembly to the position of Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

There are many whom I should like to thank. Allow me to start by thanking you, Madam Chair, for the skill with which you have conducted the process leading from the nomination of the Coordination Committee in March to today’s decision of the General Assembly to confirm the Coordination Committee’s nomination. I should also like to thank the chair of the Coordination Committee, Ambassador Fodé Seck, for the skill with which he managed the challenging process of the election in the Coordination Committee.

Please allow me to thank the Government of Australia for having supported my nomination for re-appointment. I am grateful, in particular, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Honorable Julie Bishop, and the Minister for Trade, the Honorable Andrew Robb, who led the able teams from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Attorney-General’s Department and IP Australia who worked for my re-appointment. I should like to extend special thanks also to the Australian Ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Hamish McCormick, and the Australian Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Peter Woolcott, and their wonderful staff, for their support, guidance and advice.

I would like to thank all the Member States for their confidence and trust. I have always thought that it was a privilege to be able to work for an international organization. To have the opportunity to serve as chief executive is an additional privilege. Above all, it provides an extraordinary opportunity to meet and to interact with many remarkable people from many different cultures and walks of life. I am grateful to the diplomatic community in Geneva for the support that it extended to me during my first term and for my re-election. Those on post in Geneva have to deal with a vast diversity of subjects, often with less than adequate resources. Despite this heavy charge, and despite the technical complexity associated with a specialized subject like intellectual property, throughout my first term, Ambassadors and their colleagues have been extremely generous with their time and availability, very indulgent of my failings and shortcomings and always willing to engage and to assist in overcoming difficulties.

Please allow me to thank also my colleagues in the Secretariat, so many of whom have provided exemplary support and wise advice. All have contributed towards a record of good results over the past six years and I look forward to continuing to work with them over the coming six years.

Turning to the future, I believe that the fundamental challenge that we face as an Organization is to achieve a shared understanding of the contribution and value of intellectual property to economic, social and cultural development. This is by no means an easy task. Many obstacles lie in the path - different competitive interests in an economy in which knowledge- and technology-intensive industries account for an increasing 30% share of global economic output; asymmetries of wealth, opportunity and knowledge; historical and contemporary trust deficits; and the reality of a multi-speed and multi-tiered world in which multilateralism, while being the highest expression of inclusiveness and legitimacy, is nevertheless the slowest solution.

I believe that the successful conclusion of the Beijing and Marrakesh Treaties shows us that it is easier to reach a shared understanding on specific issues, where there is a demonstrable and manageable need for international action, than to achieve a shared understanding across the whole range of intellectual property, which now underlies most economic and cultural activities. As we go forward on such specific issues, it will be important that the agenda address the interests of all sides of the multilateral equation. This means that the Organization must be able to address both the high end and the low end of technology. In concrete terms, for example, the Organization must achieve successful outcomes both on broadcasting and on traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources. If we are unable to address the latest technological developments, the Organization will fail in its main mission of encouraging innovation and will become irrelevant to the mainstream of global innovation. If we are unable to address traditional knowledge systems, the Organization will fail in its mission of universality and will not recognize the full scope of intellectual contributions to innovation.

I am conscious that this balance, which is an essential feature of multilateralism, extends beyond the normative agenda to the whole way in which the Organization operates. In this regard, allow me to mention one area that recurs in the conversations that I have had with Member States. This is the question of geographical balance in the Secretariat. The message of Member States has come through loud and clear. Just about every part of the world considers that it is less than adequately represented. Some parts definitely are under-represented. We have been working on developing a better balance in the Secretariat, both geographical and gender, and this will continue to be a priority. Because of the low rate of attrition of staff, radical transformations are not possible, but steady progress will be made. I consider this question also to be a shared responsibility with the Member States and would encourage all Member States to bring vacancies to the attention of well qualified professionals. We have plans for increasing the opportunity for persons from different countries to apply for vacancies and will unveil these and other proposals for developing a better geographic and gender balance in the coming months.

I very much look forward to working with all Member States over the coming mandate. The politics of intellectual property are, in my view, becoming more, rather than less, challenging. I do not think that this is a disturbing development. Rather, I would view it as a natural consequence of the increased economic value of intangibles and innovation and of the mission of intellectual property of finding the right balance in relation to all the interests that surround innovation in our society. However, while Member States are primarily responsible for managing the politics, the heightened level of challenge also means that I am going to need a lot of help over the coming years. I hope that I shall be able to count on the support and charitable disposition of both the Member States and the staff. I look forward to working with you all.