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

2015 Address of the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – October 5 to 14, 2015

[Check against delivery]

Your Excellency Ambassador Gabriel Duque, 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 in extending a warm welcome to all delegations to the 2015 Assemblies.  I thank you all for your participation.  Over 1,000 delegates have registered for the Assemblies and we have, in addition to a very full agenda, an extensive program of cultural and other events hosted by Member States, a very good sign of the active support for, and constructive engagement in, the Organization on the part of Member States.

I would like to thank the outgoing Chair of the General Assembly, Ambassador Kairamo of Finland, for her support and guidance over the past two years.  I congratulate Ambassador Duque on his election as the new Chair.  My colleagues and I look forward very much to working with him over the next two years.  I thank him also for the energy and skill that he has devoted to the task of chairing the Organization’s Program and Budget Committee.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank also all the chairs of the various other WIPO bodies and committees for the very considerable time and effort that they have devoted to advancing the work of the Organization. 

There has been great progress and a number of positive developments in many areas of the work of the Organization in the course of the past 12 months.  This is all set out in detail in my Report, which will be available immediately, outside the conference hall.  I will refer now only to some of the highlights of that work and to some of the main trends in the context in which the Organization is operating.

The Organization continues to enjoy a sound and, even, fortunate financial condition.  We completed the first year of the current 2014-2015 biennium with an overall surplus of 37 million Swiss francs.  We are now 75% of the way through the second year of the biennium and the results indicate that we may expect to achieve a good overall surplus for the whole biennium.

The healthy financial state of the Organization is a consequence primarily of the rising interest in, and demand for, intellectual property, as knowledge, technology and creative works move to the center of the contemporary economy and as governments respond by orienting economic strategies to innovation and creativity.  Intellectual property is a necessary, although not sufficient, component of successful innovation ecosystems and thriving environments for the creative industries.

This major trend towards the increased value of intangibles and intellectual capital is driving our Global IP Systems - the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Madrid System for marks and the Hague System for designs - which are the source of 95% of the revenue of the Organization, and under which we expect to receive this year some 220,000 international patent applications, 50,000 international trademark applications and a much smaller, but rapidly growing, number of international design applications.

The geographical participation in these Systems continues to evolve in line with more general economic trends.  Asia now is the major origin of international patent applications, accounting for around 40% of the total, as against 30% for North America and 27 % for Europe.  As administrators of these Systems, we are focused on the quality of services that we provide under them both to national and regional IP Offices and to users; on enhancing the efficiency and friendliness of their electronic environments; and on improving productivity.  I am pleased to be able to recall that we have managed to maintain both staff and fees at a constant level for seven years now, despite significantly increased workloads.

I would like to draw attention to the many important advances that we have made in the soft infrastructure that underlies the operation of the IP system worldwide – our global databases and information technology (IT) platforms, systems and tools.  This is not a glamorous area, but I mention it for two reasons in particular. 

In the first place, it may be noted that the various platforms that the Organization is providing are increasingly forming part of a single global IP infrastructure platform that will, in the coming years, become more integrated.  It will serve the interests of governments, users and the interested public alike by increasing efficiency, cost-effectiveness and transparency, as well as by enhancing the quality of outcomes in the operation of the IP system worldwide.

Secondly, many of these platforms and systems represent a very good example of the implementation of the goal of the Development Agenda of mainstreaming development in the work of the Organization.  Much of this work is oriented to the inclusion of the developing countries and to building their capacity to use and to participate in the IP system.  The work is also performed outside our Development Sector in the formal or strict sense.  Our IP Office Administration System (IPAS) is a good example.  It supports the processing of IP applications in some 70 IP Offices, the overwhelming majority of which are developing countries.  It provides connectivity into a variety of global facilities.  We believe that our new project in the area of the collective management of copyright, WIPO Connect, will do the same thing in providing opportunities for the distribution of creative works of developing countries globally.

A number of important initiatives are also bearing fruit in public-private partnerships.  I would like to mention, in particular, WIPO Re:Search, which exists for sharing intellectual property and unpublished scientific data, and for capacity building,  in order to advance drug discovery in the areas of neglected tropical diseases, malaria and tuberculosis.  WIPO Re:Search has 94 members from developed and developing countries and has produced 89 collaborations among them.  We also have several important partnerships with publishers.   Access to Research for Development and Innovation (ARDI) offers free or affordable access to scientific and technical journals in LDCs and developing countries.  The number of users has grown from 300 to 500 institutions from 72 countries, which have access to 20,000 journals, books and reference works.  It is a member of the United Nations public-private partnership “Research for Life”.  Similarly, the Access to Specialized Patent Information (ASPI) partnership provides users in LDCs and developing countries with access to commercial patent databases.  Lastly, let me mention the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), which has made great progress in providing a practical vehicle for implementing the objectives of the Marrakesh Treaty.  In its first year of operation, ABC’s Book Service has facilitated the lending of accessible books to 31,000 persons who are print disabled, and has achieved a number of other significant milestones.  In each of these public-private partnerships, the private sector is making available or donating intellectual and financial assets.  In each, the major beneficiary is persons and institutions in developing countries.   Again, the partnerships are good examples of the mainstreaming of development and have been developed and are managed in parts of the Organization outside our formal development sector.

The emphasis that we place on our infrastructure platforms and systems and on the successes of our public-private partnerships may sometimes be interpreted as a desire or attempt to reduce the importance of the Organization’s normative program or to replace it with practical projects.  I believe that this would be an inaccurate interpretation.  By emphasizing these areas, I wish simply to draw attention to the fact that, in an interconnected world, international cooperation can take many forms.  IP platforms, other soft infrastructure projects and public-private partnerships offer enormous possibilities for cooperation in a world in which over three billion people are connected, especially in our area of intangibles, whether knowledge, technology or creative works.  There is much that we can learn from the private sector exploitation of the potential of the interconnected world which has seen, for example, Facebook having over one billion users, or over 500 million persons actively using Baidu.

That said, there is, and always will be, a place for treaties and other normative cooperation.  It provides, after all, the framework within which both the private and the public sectors are able to operate.  But we must also face the fact that the normative area is the most challenging one and the one in which the Organization has the greatest difficulty in moving forward.  The lack of capacity to agree is often lamented here in Geneva and elsewhere around the world.  There are many explanations for it, but in our area of intellectual property, three, in particular, are prominent.

The first is a consequence of the increased value of intangibles and intellectual capital in the economy that I mentioned at the outset.  At the same time as this increased value is driving demand for our Global IP Systems, it is also making innovation the focus of competition between enterprises, industries and economies.  Naturally, it is harder to come to agreement on intellectual property in this context than it was in a world ruled by physical resources and capital.

A second explanation is the enormous asymmetries in the distribution of knowledge and technology across the world and in the capacity to generate innovation.  This has always existed, but it is accentuated in a world in which knowledge, technology and innovation capacity have become central resources.

The increased value of intellectual capital and its centrality to competition also means that economies that do wish to trade in intangibles and to advance their competitive advantage in the area are impatient to put in place the regulatory regimes that will facilitate this.  Thus, we see very active agendas in the field of intellectual property at the bilateral, regional and plurilateral levels in a way that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago.  This more complex architecture tends, naturally, to suck some of the oxygen out of the multilateral space.

I believe that these developments require us to think more carefully about, and to identify with greater intelligence, what can and should be done at the multilateral level.  Clearly, not everything can be done multilaterally, but clearly some things need to be, or should be, done multilaterally.

The immediate challenge before the Member States is the agenda of these Assemblies, where there are some real differences over a number of items.  To the extent that Member States are able to agree on these issues, which will require a real effort and some compromise in initial positions, the Organization will be in a fitter and better condition to engage on the larger question of identifying a future agenda that embraces some of the realities that underlie the difficulties that the Organization confronts in moving forward on the normative agenda.

In concluding, I would like to return to the positive note of the progress made over the past 12 months and to pay tribute to the role that the Senior Management Team and the staff of WIPO have played in supporting and advancing that progress.  I believe that we have a talented and dedicated staff at WIPO and I would like to express my gratitude to them for their excellent work.