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

2018 Address of the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – September 24 to October 2, 2018

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Your Excellency Ambassador Duong Chi Dung, 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 2018 Assemblies. It is very gratifying to see such a large participation, a sign of the very active engagement in, and support for, the Organization on the part of so many Member States.

I thank Ambassador Duong for his leadership, commitment and wise guidance throughout the past year as Chair of the General Assembly. Equally, I should like to express our appreciation to the other Ambassadors and representatives of Member States who have devoted their time and energy to serve as Chairs of the other governing bodies, committees and working groups of the Organization. The smooth functioning of the Organization, and the advancement of its work, rely on the generosity and commitment of those who perform these very important functions.

Intellectual property (IP) continues to grow in economic and social importance around the world. This increased prominence is being driven by rapid, profound and pervasive technological change, which is shaping the future of the economy and placing increasing value on knowledge in its economic and commercial expression as intangible assets.

We see this change in the position of IP unfolding in many ways – in demand for IP rights, in attention to IP as a part of innovation and industrial strategy by both governments and enterprises, in trade discussions and in news and analysis within the media and the general public.

Using demand, one of the indicators of change, as an example, we can see that the extent of change is very considerable. In 2016, the last complete year for which we have statistics from Member States, 3.1 million patent applications, 7 million trademark applications and 963,000 design applications were filed in IP Offices around the world. These are prodigious numbers and represent increases over the last 20 years of 189%, 253% and 388%, respectively. There are numerous explanations for these huge increases, the most prominent being the domination of the economy by technology, the global nature of economic activity and the emergence of new actors through geopolitical change, which has resulted in innovation being more multipolar in nature. It is certainly worth dwelling on the last of these explanations and pausing to note that Asia is now the dominant source of all IP applications filed worldwide, accounting, on average across the various IP rights, for over 60% of them.

The intensification of IP activity around the world has translated positively into the life of the Organization. This beneficial influence can be seen in a multiplicity of ways.

The increased worldwide demand for IP is reflected in positive growth rates in both the membership and use of WIPO’s Global IP Systems, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Madrid System for marks and the Hague System for designs, as well as in the use of the services of the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center. The PCT received 243,500 international applications in 2017, a growth of 4.5% over the preceding year, while the Madrid System received 56,200 international applications, a growth of 5% over 2016 and the Hague System received applications for 19,429 designs, a growth rate 3.8% over the year before. In 2017, the Arbitration and Mediation Center received 3,074 Internet domain name disputes and 52 international mediations and arbitrations concerning more general international IP disputes, both record numbers. The results so far in the current year of 2018 indicate similar trends to those of 2017 for all these systems.

The services provided by the Organization under the various Global IP Systems generate 92% of the revenue of the Organization. The strong performance of these systems, together with focused and prudent management of expenditure, provides the basis for the financial stability of the Organization. We concluded the 2016-2017 biennium with an overall surplus of CHF 55.9 million. In reaching this result, the achievements in financial management included containing the rise in personnel expenditure, repaying all outstanding loans on the campus and buildings of the Organization, and vesting core and strategic cash in accordance with the revised Policy on Investments approved by the Member States.

The treaties administered by the Organization continue to attract steady increases in membership. The Marrakesh Treaty for facilitating access to published works for visually impaired and print-disabled persons is the fastest moving of the WIPO treaties, not only in the past year, but most probably in the history of the Organization. Accessions stand at 41 after five years. The European Union is expected to accede next week. This will bring the number of countries embracing the Treaty to nearly 70. Many more States are preparing to accede to the Treaty and we may now look with some confidence to a time when the Treaty will be universal, which will be a great achievement for the Organization.

There are many other areas where the growing importance of IP is reflected in enthusiastic participation by Member States in the services and programs of the Organization. There is extensive cooperation between Member States in the IT systems and platforms that the Organization facilitates. The Offices of over 80 countries are using IPAS, the IT system for office administration and management developed by the Organization. Our global databases, which rely on Member-State cooperation, grow in coverage and offer a sophisticated range of tools for users. Our TISC network, or network of Technology and Innovation Support Centers, has grown to 642 TISCs in 76 countries. All these, and other platforms for cooperation, provide an opportunity for closer data-driven cooperation and provide opportunities for enhanced efficiency, quality and transparency in the IP system worldwide.

The development dimension is present in all parts of the Organization’s work. The IT platforms that I have just mentioned are primarily directed at, and are extensively used by, developing, least developed and transition countries. Demand for capacity building increases each year as IP infiltrates a broader range of economic and social activity. The WIPO Academy is experiencing record levels of participation in the extensive range of online and physical courses that it offers.

The programs of the Organization support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a multiplicity of ways. The Member States are engaged in mapping more precisely the various interactions with the SGDs in the Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP). We have also embraced the spirit of the SDGs in creating new partnerships “bringing together Governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors and mobilizing all available resources"[1] through a number of successful public-private partnerships, such as WIPO Re:Search and the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), two very active, successful and growing examples. A new public-private partnership, PAT-Informed, will be announced this week. It is a partnership under which 20 of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world are providing data linking patents and medicines around the world in order to facilitate the work of procurement. One non-governmental organization involved in procuring medicines, which tested the new database, estimated that the database increased the efficiency of procurement by 30%.

I am very pleased to report that the two new initiatives that were announced during the last Assemblies have borne much fruit. The first was the establishment within the Secretariat, in the Global Infrastructure Sector, of an Advanced Technologies Applications Center (ATAC). The Center has pioneered two world-class artificial intelligence applications. One of those applications is neural machine translation. It is extensively used in relation to our global databases and in the translation work of the Organization. It has been licensed, free-of-charge, to 14 international organizations to assist in improving the efficiency, cost and quality of translation work. The second new AI application is a world-first image search and recognition system to assist in the processing of trademark and design applications and in the search by users for pre-existing graphic elements of their intended brands or designs.

Both of these AI applications respond to the need for machine assistance in dealing with the volume of applications being produced by growing demand for IP. Indeed, the volume of IP applications globally is naturally driving the evolution of artificial intelligence. We are working on further AI applications and believe that this is a very promising area for advancing international cooperation in the administration of IP through the sharing of knowledge and systems that will also have an important capacity-building dimension.

The second new initiative is the establishment of a dedicated division within the Legal Counsel’s Office on the judicial administration of IP to coordinate the Organization’s programs in relation to the judiciary and to advance them in new ways. An advisory group of judges has been established. A very successful master class on IP adjudication was held in Beijing in cooperation with the Supreme People’s Court of China in August this year. The inaugural WIPO IP Judges Forum will be held at WIPO in Geneva in November. We continue to receive a very enthusiastic response from Member States to this initiative.

The area where the Organization faces the most challenges in moving forward is rule making, regrettably a common phenomenon in all international organizations at the present time. The lack of capacity to progress in the normative area is complex and has many causes. But it comes at an inconvenient time because technological change is bringing about profound economic and social change. Many questions are arising in relation to those changes and their impact. One of those sets of questions concerns intellectual property rights and their fitness for purpose in the data-based intangible or knowledge economy. There are some who feel that there may be lacunae in the IP system in its application to data and artificial intelligence. I believe that it would be a good thing for a conversation around these complex issues to develop within the Organization. I am not suggesting that the world is in any way near formulating any new rules. It is less about providing answers and more about attempting to pose the right questions. We could all benefit from sharing knowledge, views and perspectives on these issues so as to advance our common understanding.

Turning to the draft agenda of the current session of the Assemblies, there are a number of institutional questions that remain unresolved concerning the composition of the Coordination Committee and of the Program and Budget Committee and relating to external offices. There are also certain substantive questions, particularly those relating to the possible convening of a diplomatic conference on the proposed design law treaty and the design of a path forward to a possible diplomatic conference on broadcasting. It would be a wonderful achievement and a positive signal for multilateralism if the Member States were able to end the Assemblies having resolved at least one, if not several, of these outstanding questions.

Before concluding, I would like to pay tribute to the wonderful staff of this Organization. There are many, many highly professional, skilled, dedicated and talented officers in the Organization who endeavor to ensure that the Organization delivers results and serves the interests of its Member States. The positive results over the course of the past 12 months owe much to them. The development of our human capital, the retention of talent and the flourishing of geographical and gender diversity are basic objectives of the management. In this respect, I should like also to re-affirm our fundamental commitment to the elimination of all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse and to the initiatives of the Secretary General and many others to put an end to such exploitation and abuse. Our support for a respectful workplace and working environment is unqualified.

I wish all delegations a very fruitful meeting of the Assemblies, with the hope of positive results for the Organization.

Footnotes

1 Para 39, United Nations General Assembly resolution adopting the SGDs on September 25, 2015