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2019 Address of the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – September 30 to October 9, 2019

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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 2019 Assemblies. I thank all delegations for their presence and for their continuing engagement in, and support for, the Organization. We have a very full agenda for the meeting, both the formal agenda and the professional and social events that Member States and other interested parties have kindly undertaken to organize on the margins of the formal meeting.

Please allow me to thank the Chair of the WIPO General Assembly, Ambassador Dung for his dedication and hard work over the past two years and for his efforts to shepherd a number of items that are on our agenda towards a successful resolution.

Equally, I should like to take the opportunity to thank the outgoing Chair of the WIPO Coordination Committee, Ambassador Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as the many chairs of the Organization’s other bodies, committees and working groups for their tremendous efforts and dedication in taking the work of the Organization forward.

It is a pleasure for me to report very briefly on the state of intellectual property worldwide and on the Organization’s work in that context in the course of the past twelve months.

Worldwide, as we can observe, there has never before been such interest in, and attention to, intellectual property (IP). This has not been a sudden development, but one that has unfolded at an increasing rhythm over the past years and, in particular, the past decade as a consequence of profound and rapidly developing technological changes that have given greater importance to intangible assets and intellectual capital in the economy.

The increased prominence of IP has brought with it new challenges for both IP and the Organization. One of those challenges, which affects all national and regional IP Offices, as well as WIPO, is the management of the growing demand for IP titles in a way that ensures the timely and high-quality administration of IP applications. In 2017, there were 3.2 million patent applications filed worldwide, 12.4 million trademark applications and 1.2 million design applications. The number of those national and regional applications translated into international applications through the Global IP Systems administered by WIPO is likewise increasing rapidly, as I shall mention below. It is clear that these volumes of applications cannot be managed without the aid of new tools. Here, artificial intelligence (AI) is coming to our rescue. The Organization has been at the forefront of the development and deployment of new AI applications for this purpose through its Advanced Technologies Application Center (ATAC). These applications include WIPO Translate, which is licensed free-of-charge to 11 UN and international entities and made available to Member States; a world-first brand image search system; and classification tools. Other applications are under development. We have also developed a new and improved system for the management of records of meetings that features on the agenda of these Assemblies. It will deliver improved service at a considerably lower cost and widespread interest in its adoption has already been expressed by a wide range of other UN and international entities. All these applications are, or will be, shared with Member States. I hope that, as an international community, we can work together in the development and deployment of these useful applications without duplicating each other’s work.

The increasingly important position of IP has also resulted in new challenges for the substance of IP policy. New technologies, such as AI, are raising new questions about the application of existing IP policy, as well as the major question of whether the classical system of IP needs adjustment to cover perceived gaps in order to ensure that the IP system continues to serve the innovation ecosystem effectively. I am delighted that, in this respect, the Organization has commenced a conversation on AI and has started the process of developing a list of questions that may need to be addressed.

The conversation on AI is occurring at a time when the multilateral system is under a large number of pressures that are impairing its capacity to produce timely results in the normative area, not the least of which is the faltering political will to adopt a multilateral approach and to develop multilateral solutions. It is important to remember the consequences of failure or, even, of neglect of the multilateral approach. They include incoherence in the regulatory framework that applies to technologies that are, by their very nature, internationally deployed through the Internet and other networks, whose power and application are about to increase significantly with the deployment of 5G. Ultimately, a race to develop the global rule or solution through national or regional regulatory competition, as opposed to a multilateral approach, will erode the value of the technologies themselves and their useful economic and social deployment. Technical interoperability depends on regulatory interoperability.

Let me turn now to a brief mention of some of the results of the Organization over the past year. Here, we see that the Organization has benefitted in a number of ways from the new prominence of IP.

The financial situation of the Organization, driven by the market use of our Global IP Systems, is sound and stable. We ended 2018 with a surplus of CHF 42.5 million. At this stage of the year, we expect that 2019 will also result in a healthy surplus. These surpluses are very important for financing needed capital expenditure through the Capital Master Plan approved by the Member States, for funding the long-term liabilities of the Organization, such as after-service health insurance, and for the maintenance of an appropriate level of liquid reserves to provide assurance against sudden and unforeseen market downturns, always, regrettably, a possibility in today’s volatile world.

Our Global IP Systems continue to develop in a very positive manner. The systems are used by all the major corporations in the world, as well as by universities and research institutions and small and medium enterprises. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) received 253,000 international patent applications in 2018, a growth rate of 3.9% over the preceding year. The Madrid System received 61,200 international trademark applications, a growth rate of 6.4% over 2017. And the Hague System received 5,429 international applications, a growth rate of 3.3% over the previous year. Each system continues to expand its geographical coverage through new accessions. Of particular note were five new accessions to the Madrid System, from Afghanistan, Brazil, Canada, Malawi and Samoa. Brazil’s accession means that the two largest economies in Latin America now belong to the Madrid System, raising the hope that other countries from the Latin American region, which has trailed in its participation in the system, will follow suit.

The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center has likewise experienced very significant growth. The number of Internet domain name cases received by the Center rose to 3,447 in 2018, an increase of 12% over the preceding year. The Center now also receives regularly a very solid caseload for general IP arbitrations, mediations and expert determinations and cooperates with over 20 IP and Copyright Offices around the world in the administration of arbitration and mediation for disputes concerning IP applications and titles.

Two important new developments are underway at the Center. The first is the accreditation of the Center by the Cyberspace Administration of China as a service provider for Internet domain name disputes in .CN and

.中国 (China), one of the largest country domains in the world. The addition of .CN and .中国 (China) to the Center’s portfolio means that the Center now administers disputes for over 75 country domains (ccTLDs). The second development is the positive encouragement for the Center to become a dispute-resolution provider in the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, which hosts more than 10,000 foreign-invested enterprises. The Center would be the first non-Chinese entity providing alternative dispute resolution services for the Zone. Both of these developments will provide foreign enterprises participating in the Chinese market with an additional choice of an independent and neutral service for dispute resolution. I should like to express our deep appreciation to the relevant Chinese authorities for their expression of confidence in the Center and for their commitment to international cooperation.

We have also launched a new Global IP Portal that seeks to integrate the different IT systems that underlie the various Global IP Services offered by the Organization. It has been developed in recognition of the fact that many users of WIPO’s Global IP Services use more than one of those services. It seeks to provide a more uniform customer experience that presents the full range of services offered by the Organization in a single interface, with a unified navigation bar, standard features across all applications, a modernized look-and-feel, streamlined payment systems and a single messaging system.

The past year has also been a record year for accessions to WIPO-administered treaties, with 59 new accessions received in 2018. This is another positive sign for multilateralism. We are expecting a number of other important accessions to be made this week. I am also very pleased to report that we are getting very close to the numbers of accessions required to bring into force the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications and the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances. We hope that both of these instruments will reach the required numbers before the end of 2019.

There have been many other positive developments in the Organization. Details of these are set out in my Report. Here, I shall only mention a select few and then only very briefly.

The databases and IT platforms, systems and services of the Organization continue to gather strength and to attract widening participation among the Member States and the interested public. They have become also the basis of extremely important technical assistance. Our IT system for IP administration (IPAS) is now used in 84 countries. Over 750 Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISCs) have been established in 79 countries. Free or low-cost access to scientific, medical and technical publications is offered to thousands of users in developing and least developed countries, thanks to the cooperation of scientific, medical and technical publishers and commercial database services. The WIPO Academy is thriving and engaged over 90,000 participants in our distance-learning programs. Our public-private partnerships, particularly WIPO Re:Search and the Accessible Books Consortium, continue to grow. The ABC Consortium, for example, has a repertoire of over 500,000 works in 76 languages in accessible formats available for international exchange for the benefit of blind, visually impaired and print-disabled persons. An important new database for cooperation in the enforcement of IP is getting underway and will be showcased in a side event this week. Our flagship reports in economics, statistics and technology trends, including the Global Innovation Index, attract global audiences. A number of successful projects for appropriate technology have been undertaken for least developed countries. And the WIPO Judicial Institute has struck a timely note in fostering the exchange of experience and capacity building, with a very active participation from judiciaries worldwide.

All these programs are examples of the mainstreaming of development in the Organization and of active support for the Sustainable Development Goals in numerous ways.

Turning to the agenda for the Assemblies this week, please allow me to mention four specific items. The first is the draft Program and Budget. I am grateful to the Program and Budget Committee for its positive recommendations for approval. Only one item, the allocation of common expenses among the Unions, remains outstanding. Two proposals for the resolution of that item are on the table. The amount of money in question is trivial. I urge the Member States to find a pragmatic solution for this long-standing difference and to approve the draft Program and Budget so as to ensure stability in a period of transition for the Organization.

The second item is the proposed Design Law Treaty. I see no reason why it should not be submitted to a diplomatic conference for the conclusion of the treaty. The continued delay in completing this exercise is an unwanted sign of the lack of capacity of the Organization to move forward on the normative agenda at a time when the development of technology is calling for a demonstration of that capacity, as I mentioned above.

The third item is our proposal, to which I referred above, to adopt a new, improved and less costly system for the management of the records of meetings. In our consultations, the proposal has been very favorably received and I urge the Member States to move to adoption as a demonstration of the capacity of the Organization to continue to innovate in the true sense of the word.

The final item is the proposed introduction of a new service for digital time stamping. I thank the Member States for their positive response in the Program and Budget Committee. The introduction of the service will be a small step towards providing IP services that are appropriate for the digital age.

I should like to thank the staff of the Organization for its dedicated professionalism. Productivity continues to improve and increases in costs continue to be contained. Overall, the Organization is well down the track in its digital transformation, both in terms of our working and management systems, and in terms of the services provided to the public. We have asked a lot from the staff in the process of digital transformation and they have responded extremely well. I am deeply appreciative of their positive attitude to the rather constant change that the contemporary world demands.

Geographical and gender diversity remain priorities. We have improved in geographical diversity, which is a long process, given the low rate of attrition of staff. One hundred and twenty-three (123) nationalities are now represented on the staff. We need to make further progress on gender diversity in the upper ranks of the Organization and our eye is firmly focused on achieving this.

I thank once again all the Member States for their very positive engagement in, and support for, the Organization and I wish you all successful deliberations and positive outcomes of those deliberations.