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

2014 Address of the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – September 22 to 30, 2014

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

It is a great pleasure for me to join the Chair of the WIPO General Assembly, whom I would like also to thank for her leadership, in welcoming you to the first WIPO Assemblies to be held in the new WIPO Conference Hall. The completion of the Conference Hall marks the termination of a building program that has lasted for the past six years and that has produced the very successful new building, which has been occupied by WIPO staff for the past three years, and now what I hope will be an equally successful new conference hall with improved connected meeting rooms and facilities for Member States.

The new Conference Hall has been a challenging project in many respects. We shall celebrate its opening officially tonight, which will provide an occasion to thank the many persons involved in the project. But please allow me to pay tribute here to two of my colleagues who led the team that has worked so hard on the project, namely, Mr. Ambi Sundaram, Assistant Director General for Administration and Management, and Ms. Isabelle Boutillon, Director of the Premises Infrastructure Division. Both have accomplished outstanding work in bringing a complex project to fruition largely on budget.

The past year has seen continued health and stability in the financial condition of the Organization. We completed the 2012-2013 biennium with an overall surplus of CHF 34.6 million on income of CHF 680 million, which was 5.1% higher than the budgeted income for the biennium, as a result largely of growth rates in our Global IP Systems, particularly the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), that surpassed budget forecasts. Expenditure for the biennium was CHF 612 million, which was 5.6% lower than the budgeted expenditure as a consequence of cost efficiencies, productivity gains, mainly through IT systems and new management tools, and the judicious use of outsourcing in certain areas. The reserves are in a sound condition, with net assets standing at CHF 208.8 million, which places them above the target level set by Member States.

We are still at an early stage in the new 2014-2015 biennium, but the experience of the first eight months indicates that we are on target to meet budget expectations. All things being equal, which is not necessarily the best assumption in a world economy that is still beset by uncertainty, a hesitant recovery and low visibility, we might expect to exceed modestly budget expectations.

The sound financial condition of the Organization results from our Global IP Systems, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Madrid System for trademarks and the Hague System for designs. Over the past ten years, both the membership and the use of these systems have increased very significantly.

The membership of the PCT increased by 19% from 124 Member States in 2004 to 148 Member States in 2013. International applications filed under the PCT increased over the same period by 67% from 122,631 applications to 205,300 international applications. Last year, 2013, was the first time in which more than 200,000 PCT applications were filed in a single year.

The membership of the Madrid System increased by 37% from 67 Contracting Parties in 2004 to 92 Contracting Parties in 2013. International applications filed under the Madrid System increased during that period by 59% from 29,476 to 46,829 applications.

The Hague System tells a similar story on a much smaller scale. Membership of the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement over the past ten years increased by 147% from 22 to 47 Contracting Parties. Likewise, international applications for design protection increased over this period by 116% from 1,382 to 2,990 applications.

These are impressive figures. I believe that they demonstrate that the systems are good examples of successful international cooperation. In addition, the systems are the basis of the revenue of the Organization, accounting for 95% of it. These are good reasons to say that WIPO’s Global IP Systems should be one of the essential priorities of the Organization in the coming six years. As such, we will endeavor to oversee the continued geographical expansion of the systems so that they are all truly global in their reach, as well as the continued improvement of the electronic operating environments of the systems, which offer efficiency and productivity gains, as well as an enhanced quality of service. It will continue to be important that the systems remain cost-effective and, thus, accessible. I am pleased to recall that, over the past six years, which saw important increases in workload through the increased numbers of applications, there has been no fee increase in any of the systems.

The most challenging part of the Organization’s program is the normative agenda. The Member States have successfully concluded two new treaties in the past two years, the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances and the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. Accessions to these new treaties have started and I would urge all Member States to convert the hard work that went into successfully concluding the treaties into accessions that bring the treaties into force, which will, in turn, convert the potential of the treaties into realized gains for actors and visually impaired persons, as well as for the multilateral framework governing intellectual property.

Progress on new normative projects has been slower in the past twelve months, although important advances in understanding the issues and the respective positions of Member States have been achieved. I would urge you to use the present session of the Assemblies to try to set concrete schedules of work that will guide the Organization towards successful completion of the mature projects that have been under discussion for some years now. I refer, in particular, to the projects on a proposed design law treaty, where the text of the treaty is essentially agreed; broadcasting, where we need a road map to a successful conclusion; and traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and intellectual property in relation to genetic resources, where the experts have prepared the stage for negotiations that I hope will be able to identify an achievable and successful outcome.

Looking ahead, I believe that we are all aware that the normative agenda will remain a challenging area in the coming years. Discussions are underway amongst the Member States on finding a means to improve the efficiency of the many, if not too many, meetings that the Organization sponsors in this field. I hope that you will be able to work out a more efficient operating framework for meetings, which enables the membership to focus on those areas where there is agreement to work towards viable outcomes. I believe that there is a widely held view that normative committees should concentrate only on normative projects, while exploratory and learning discussions on the many new and interesting issues being thrown up by the advance of technology, globalization and the revolution in the means of producing, distributing and consuming creative works are better served through occasional conferences in which outcomes are not determined in advance of a shared understanding and widespread consensus on the need to address a particular subject through normative action.

I hope that any reform of the operating framework for committees and meetings will strengthen, rather than reduce, the political will to advance multilateral cooperation. It is apparent to all that we are experiencing a multi-speed and multi-tiered world in which international cooperation is pursued in many different forms and fora. I hope that the multilateral is not forgotten in this new world. WIPO has, over its long life, built a convincing framework in more than 20 treaties for international cooperation in intellectual property in the interests of innovation and creative works. I hope that the judicious and careful addition of new solutions that add real value in the complex arena that now constitutes international cooperation will feature in the political will and priorities that Member States set for the coming years.

I would like to draw attention to some of the newer platforms of cooperation that the Organization has developed over the past few years and that are rather less visible than the cooperation achieved through normative projects. I refer here to

  • our global IP databases, PATENTSCOPE and the Global Brands Database;
  • platforms to facilitate cooperation in the delivery of services by IP Offices, such as WIPO CASE (Centralized Access to Search and Examination), DAS (Digital Access Service) and our classification systems;
  • platforms for public-private cooperation, such as WIPO Re-Search, the Accessible Books Consortium, Access to Research for Development and Innovation (ARDI) and Access to Specialized Patent Information (ASPI); and
  • systems for the modernization of IP Offices and copyright agencies, such as IPAS (Industrial Property Automation System) and WIPOCOS (WIPO Copyright Information System).

I realize that this world is a bewildering array of acronyms that is difficult to digest. But I would like to emphasize several things about these platforms.

In the first place, we have made tremendous progress in this area over the past six years. Most of these platforms for cooperation did not previously exist.

Secondly, the platforms are all voluntary and formed on an à la carte basis, in which Member States decide whether and how they wish to participate in them. They rely on the involvement of Member States and we have witnessed very significant and positive engagement from the Member States in the various platforms.

Thirdly, the platforms are extremely effective vehicles for achieving a number of shared policy objectives, notably the improved efficiency and effectiveness of the operation of the IP system for innovators and creators; much richer economic and business intelligence both for IP Offices to take decisions on whether to grant property rights and for enterprises and the public in making decisions about, and analyzing the functioning of, the IP system; the practical advancement of agreed policy positions (for example, the Accessible Books Consortium aims to assist practically in the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty); and effective capacity building delivering real benefits for the developing and least developed countries.

I have dwelt upon this technical area, at the risk of losing you, because I believe that we are sometimes too pessimistic about the achievements of international cooperation. We tend to focus in this pessimism on the difficult area of norm-making and too often overlook that platforms can, in certain contexts, be as effective in advancing international cooperation as treaties. In addition, I would like to underline that all these platforms are very good examples of the implementation of the objective of the Development Agenda of mainstreaming development. This whole program, much of which is specifically designed for developing countries, has been constructed outside our formal Development Sector, principally in the Global Infrastructure Sector, but also in the Global Issues Sector and the Culture and Creative Industries Sector. It demonstrates how much we have been able to mainstream development.

In addition to our numerous platforms, our general technical assistance and capacity building program will continue to be a central priority. We seek to work closely with Member States in trying to achieve outcomes that address the particular economic circumstances and aspirations of the developing and least developed countries. In particular, I would like to draw attention to the important work in capacity building carried out by the WIPO Academy. Over 40,000 persons enroll each year in our distance learning courses, with 49% of them coming from developing countries and 40% coming from countries with economies in transition. Courses and tutoring services are available in seven languages.

In order to meet the many challenges that lie ahead for the Organization, we need first-class staff. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of WIPO for their professional and dedicated service. The number of total staff has remained static over the past six years, despite considerable augmentations in the work load. This increased productivity results not only from improved IT and management systems and practices, but also from the hard work of the staff.

I am pleased to present to these Assemblies my proposals for the new Senior Management Team (SMT). We undertook an extensive process to arrive at the proposals, which included reviewing applications for the available positions from 360 persons. I would like to thank all Member States for their very constructive engagement in the process. I look forward to working closely with the new SMT, which I believe is an outstanding team.

I should like to thank the outgoing members of the SMT for their work over the past five years. There have been many successful outcomes over that period and members of the SMT have played an indispensable role in achieving those outcomes.

We are living through a period in which innovation has become central to the economy and to society’s capacity to address new challenges. We are likewise experiencing the most profound revolution in the production, distribution and consumption of creative and cultural works for the past 600 years, since the introduction of the printing press. Intellectual property is integral to both of these developments. I hope that, in the coming six years, the Organization will be able to play an important part in developing policies, platforms and cooperation that will respond to the magnitude of the challenges that are arising from the centrality of innovation and the digital revolution.