WIPO Director General Tang Outlines Organization's Current Activities and Areas of Future Work in Speech to AIPLA

October 29, 2020

WIPO Director General Daren Tang outlined the Organization’s current activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted areas of future work in a speech to members of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA).


Speaking at the virtual Annual Meeting of the AIPLA on October 29, 2020, Mr. Tang said that demand for WIPO’s Global IP Services remains “robust” despite the economic disruptions from the pandemic. Thus far, he said, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) had seen 94% of its expected filing load through the end of August, with the Madrid System at 85% and the Hague System at 78%. Staff productivity in each of the three systems quickly reached high levels despite the rapid move to remote work as the pandemic's onset earlier in the year. He cautioned, however, that IP cycles are long and that the situation must be monitored closely.

The Director General provided an overview of treaty accessions in the past year, with the deposit of 55 instruments of accession to WIPO-administered treaties, demonstrating the robust nature of the international IP legal framework, despite recent challenges for multilateral cooperation.

Mr. Tang said multilateral norm-setting had become challenging across an array of international organizations but stressed: "We should not give up, but we also have to be pragmatic in moving the work forward. It is important to not just measure our success based on the number of treaties concluded, but on the impact that we can make. Our role as a convener or platform can, for a start, bring people together to talk about common issues and challenges."

Mr. Tang said that WIPO would continue to invest in tools that help connect IP to businesses, the economy and creators. These services, he said, "are the backbone of the work of IP offices and professionals."

In addition to the WIPO-run databases for patents, designs and trademarks, he highlighted WIPO Lex, a comprehensive database of IP laws and multilateral, regional and bilateral treaties, as well as the recent launch of WIPO Lex-Judgments, a new database that provides online access to leading judicial decisions related to IP from around the world.

In 2020, the Organization also launched a new global service, WIPO PROOF, which addresses the increasing amount of economic activity carried out or supported by digital technology and data. WIPO PROOF offers users a global and neutral platform for the creation of a time stamp of data, which provides irrefutable and tamper-proof evidence of the existence of those data at a given time and date. He also cited a number of artificial intelligence (AI)-based applications developed by WIPO, such as WIPO Translate and an AI-based image search tool for trademarks.

Future work

Sharing his views on some of the future challenges for the global IP community, the Director General said that intangible assets, including IP, are now the dominant asset class in the world. 

However, Mr. Tang said, "We still don’t know enough about these assets. We don’t have a common way of valuing it, efforts to collateralize have had mixed results, and its relationship with the larger economy is still largely unclear. This may not be on the radar for many of us, but it is certainly worth paying attention to, because if the global and national systems and frames are not set right, it will set back our work.”

The Director General said the value of IP needs to be better understood. “There is still a lack of awareness about IP and the value, if balanced right, that it can bring value to economies, to communities, to countries. One can look not just to North-East Asia but also countries like Singapore and Viet Nam, which are using IP to develop their economies. But all too often the debate about IP becomes polemical, with IP being painted in black and white terms.” He added: “We need to better engage with stakeholders on IP issues, and help bring a balanced perspective to the conversation.”

Mr. Tang said WIPO will embark on work with other stakeholders, including UN agencies, International Organizations, industry and IP associations, NGOs and others, to address some of these broad, strategic issues.

The Director General also spoke about some trends affecting the IP profession. He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated these existing trends, However, the IP profession is resilient  – as witnessed by the filing numbers at WIPO and other IP offices around the world.

One such trend was the increased interest of other service providers into IP services. This was due to broadening interest in IP but may result in changes in the delivery models of IP service providers. Separately, IP offices, especially those outside of the IP5 powerhouses, are themselves gearing up to review their traditional roles. They increasingly see themselves as more than just IP registries to being enablers of their innovation ecosystems. This was certainly WIPO’s experience, as there has been increased demand from Member States for support beyond the usual issues of building strong IP registries, to various initiatives to help development of the innovation ecosystem. “This is a positive development because IP is becoming more mainstream throughout the world, but it will again mean that the relationship of the IP professionals with IP offices will shift”, he said.

In conclusion, Mr. Tang urged the IP community "to see the pandemic not just through the lens of challenge and disruption, but also opportunity and renewal." He expressed WIPO’s full commitment to continuing its collaboration with AIPLA and other stakeholders "to continue building the global IP ecosystem, and ensuring that this system remains relevant, useful and vibrant to our enterprises and peoples."

The Director General thanked AIPLA President Barbara A. Fiacco, Executive Director Vince Garlock and AIPLA for the invitation to speak at the annual meeting and welcomed the longstanding close and constructive relationship between WIPO and AIPLA.