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

2017 Address of the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – October 2 to 11, 2017

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Your Excellency Ambassador Jānis Kārkliņš, 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 2017 Assemblies.  I thank the Member States for their support for the Organization, which is so apparent in the large participation in this meeting and in the extensive range of associated cultural and professional events that various Member States have generously agreed to sponsor throughout the week.

I should like also to thank Ambassador Kārkliņš for his commitment throughout the past year, as Chair of the General Assembly, to the preparation of the 2017 Assemblies and to ensuring a positive outcome of the Assemblies.   I take this opportunity also to thank the Chairs of the other governing bodies, committees and working groups for the time that they have made available and for their dedication in guiding the work of the Organization.

I am pleased to report that the membership in the Organization has expanded to 191 States in the past year with the accessions of three new States, namely the Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands and Timor Leste.  I extend a very warm welcome to these new Member States of WIPO. 

Like the membership of WIPO, the number of accessions to the various treaties administered by the Organization has grown in a very pleasing manner in the course of the past 12 months.  A milestone will be reached this week by the Madrid System with the accession of Indonesia, which will become the 100th Contracting Party to the Madrid Protocol.  The Madrid Protocol joins the WIPO Convention, the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention and the PCT to become the fifth treaty administered by the Organization with 100 or more contracting parties.  Several other WIPO treaties have well over 90 contracting parties, bringing us closer to the goal of the Medium-Term Strategic Plan of having 12 WIPO treaties each with more than 100 contracting parties.

The financial position of the Organization continues to be robust, with very positive results recorded for 2016, the first year of the current 2016-2017 biennium.  We ended the year 2016 with an overall surplus of CHF 32 million, a result similar to the preceding year 2015, when a surplus of CHF 33 million was recorded.  The results so far in the current year indicate that we may expect a comparable result again in 2017.   

The good results of the last several years have enabled us to build the net assets of the Organization to CHF 311.3 million as at the end of 2016, compared to CHF 279.1 million at the end of 2015.  In particular, we have been able to increase the liquid component of net assets, moving the Organization towards the target set by the Member States of raising the reserves level from 22% to 25% of biennial expenditure. 

The draft Program and Budget for the 2018-2019 biennium is before these Assemblies for approval.  We are projecting an increase in revenue of 10.4%, but have limited the proposed increase in expenditure to 2.7%.  In particular, in line with consistent requests from Member States, we have contained the proposed increase in staff costs to 0.8%, which we consider to be an achievement in the context of the considerable growth in demand for the services of the Organization.  For the fifth consecutive biennium, we are not proposing any fee increases in the Global IP Systems, or any new staff posts.

The positive and stable financial condition of the Organization has been driven by continually rising demand for intellectual property.  We should also acknowledge, however, the role of the attractiveness and soundness of the Global IP Systems (the PCT, the Madrid System and the Hague System) that have been put in place over the life of the Organization.  These systems provide the best means for managing the growing demand for intellectual property worldwide, as well as for obtaining effective intellectual property protection in the global market.  They are the financial lifeblood of the Organization.  But they do depend upon Member State participation.  That participation is steadily increasing, with 152 contracting parties to the PCT, soon 100 to the Madrid System, and 52 to the latest Act of the Hague System.  But there is still a long way to go, with important parts of the world absent.  None of the systems has reached its full potential.  I would urge all Member States to consider seriously the benefits of these systems and the possibility of joining them, if they have not already done so.  In an Organization where Member State contributions account for only 4% of its revenue and the Global IP Systems account for 93% of the revenue, participation in the Global IP Systems represents a most welcome expression of engagement in, and commitment to, the Organization.

Looking to the future, there are several features of the intellectual property landscape that I should like to mention that suggest potential orientations for the Organization in the medium and longer term. 

The first of those is innovation, which lies at the heart of the mission of intellectual property.  Innovation has become a central element of the economic and industrial strategies of a wide spectrum of countries, not just the most advanced technologically, but also middle-income and other countries seeking to transform economies to a more sustainable basis of value addition.  Its fundamental importance has been recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in SDG 9.  As a capacity and a strategy that applies to all sectors of the economy and society - agriculture, industry, the service and digital sectors and the creative industries - innovation provides an opportunity for the Organization to contribute to all the SDGs.  In line with SDG 17, which seeks to encourage partnerships in order to strengthen implementation of the SDGs, we have several successful public-private partnerships.  These contribute to the implementation of the SDGs in various ways – the Accessible Books Consortium, which contributes to quality education; WIPO Re:Search, which contributes to good health and well-being; various partnerships with scientific, technical and medical publishers, which contribute to innovation, quality education and several other goals; and WIPO GREEN, which contributes to climate action.  On Tuesday of this week, we shall launch a new public-private partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, the Patent Information Initiative for Medicines, through which we shall make available data on the legal status of patents on medicines, which will assist in the efficient procurement of medicines and in determining freedom to operate.

The Global Innovation Index (GII), which the Organization publishes annually with INSEAD and Cornell University, together with a number of knowledge partners, has established itself as the leading international reference for measuring innovation capacity and performance.  It has also provided a basis for engaging with Member States that wish to use the Index as a means of improving their innovation capacity.  We have successfully partnered with a number of developing countries in this way.

Innovation is occurring at an accelerating speed, which is producing a number of challenges for institutional and governance frameworks throughout the world.  Amongst them is the challenge confronting the judiciary of dealing with IP cases that throw up novel questions as a consequence of technological changes that may not have been considered or dealt with by legislatures.  We have noticed an increasing demand from Member States for engagement in respect of both the exchange of information amongst judiciaries and for capacity-building in jurisdictions that have been less exposed to intellectual property questions in the past.

This development has opened a new orientation for the Organization, which has, throughout most of its life, traditionally been concerned with the executive administration of IP.  We shall move to address these demands from Member States in a more systematic approach within the Secretariat to the judicial administration of IP.  This will involve activities that might fall into the category of capacity-building, such as the distance-learning program being developed by the WIPO Academy for judges; the creation of a space for exchanges of best practices amongst judiciaries; and the use of information technology to increase the availability of information about judicial systems and decisions in the field of IP throughout the world.  In this last respect, we have commenced an exercise with the Supreme People’s Court of China and with several countries in Latin America for making available leading decisions, with access being improved through the use of our artificial-intelligence-based machine translation system.

We have made enormous progress over the past years in our global databases and information technology platforms for cooperation amongst offices in various areas such as office automation, statistics, the digital exchange of priority documents and the exchange of search and examination results.    We believe that these have now matured into a WIPO Knowledge Network in which countries and offices share data, the Organization makes available those data in databases or through platforms, and knowledge products and services are developed either by the Organization, through our statistical or economic reports, for example, or by outside parties, since all data are made available under an open data policy.  Building upon the good work that has already been done and further developing this knowledge network, such as through the exchange and availability of information about leading judicial cases in the field of IP, will create a global asset of great value to policy-makers, the academic, scientific and research communities, practitioners and the general public.

A final area that I shall mention, where I believe that the Organization should commence to engage, although perhaps with baby steps, is the rapidly developing area of big data, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence.  The area has enormous implications and a multiplicity of dimensions, many of which lie well beyond the focus of intellectual property, and considerable care will need to be exercised to ensure that we do not stray from the mandate of the Organization.  One focus of attention could be the increasing use of artificial intelligence and big data in IP administration.  We have developed several applications - in translation, classification and image-searching - and a number of IP Offices are likewise working on different applications.  In order to keep IP administration abreast of the latest technological developments, it would be useful if we develop mechanisms for sharing information about our respective work, as well as for taking advantage of each other’s work and avoiding duplication.

A different side of the coin is the impact of the classical IP system on big data and artificial intelligence.  In particular, how is the IP system performing in this area in the discharge of its basic mission of encouraging and diffusing innovation?  There are many questions here and our knowledge base is only just developing.  It may be useful to advance our common understanding of the questions through more international exchanges of information on developments and practices.

I would like to thank once again the Member States for their support, which ensures the vitality and success of the Organization.  I would like also to pay tribute to my colleagues, the staff of WIPO, for their dedicated and professional work.  We have many very fine professionals in the Organization, who have contributed to excellent progress and some outstanding achievements.