2021 Address of the Director General
WIPO Assemblies – October 4 to 8, 2021
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Your Excellency, Ambassador Zniber, Chair of the WIPO General Assembly,
Honorable Ministers, Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates, Friends and Colleagues,
It is my great pleasure to warmly welcome you to the Sixty-Second Assemblies of the WIPO Member States.
I would like to thank you, Ambassador Zniber, as the Chairperson of the WIPO General Assembly, for your valued guidance in advance of this week, as well as throughout my first year as the new Director-General.
Special mention must also be made of Ambassador Sabri Bachtobji, whose able and adroit guidance of the Program and Budget Committee have helped us as the new Administration to achieve support from the Committee for many important program and work related proposals put before the Committee.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the Presiding Officers of WIPO committees, working groups and other bodies for your leadership and engagement over the last year in difficult circumstances, as well as the Regional Coordinators for the arduous but critical task of coordinating your respective regional groups.
Finally, I also wish to also express deep appreciation to those of you from capitals who are calling in from around the world or are with us in Geneva. Your support from capitals is key to our delivery of impact to your economies, and your continued engagement with WIPO, sometimes at great distances from Geneva and even through these difficult times, reminds us that this is indeed a global IP community and a global WIPO family.
Along with the rest of the UN family, and indeed, the world, the last year has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has presented this Organization and my fellow colleagues with novel and difficult challenges.
Beyond the disruptions caused to WIPO’s work, we join you in mourning the lives lost to the pandemic and the devastating impact it has had, and continues to have, on economies and societies the world over.
But rather than overwhelm us, our shared grief must inspire in us a steadfast and common resolve to overcome the pandemic and build back better.
To do this, we must envision the opportunities before us and seize them, even as we work to overcome the current crisis.
While the pandemic has impacted lives and livelihoods, it has also accelerated pre-pandemic trends towards the use IP, innovation and creativity as engines of growth all over the world.
As revealed by WIPO’s 2021 Global Innovation Index, IP filings, R&D expenditure and venture capital activity all grew in 2020, despite the deepest economic contraction of modern times.
At the same time, we face global challenges that threaten the very existence of our lives, and pose an existential challenge to our planet – the pandemic, climate change, unequal growth and others enshrined in the UN SDGs.
In these times, the work of WIPO, and indeed for all of us, cannot be business as usual.
In these times, we must harness our energies and deploy our expertise to help to overcome these global challenges as well as lay the foundations for future growth.
In June, we published a new five-year Medium Term Strategic Plan, in which we laid out WIPO’s new Vision and Mission.
The aim of the MTSP is twofold:
….to reinforce WIPO’s traditional areas of strength, as the provider of global IP services and the convener of the international IP community.
…and to ensure that IP acts as a powerful catalyst for jobs, investments, economic development and social vibrancy in all economies and in every region of the world.
To achieve these aims, our work will be built around four Strategic Pillars, underpinned by a Foundation.
Under our first pillar, WIPO is broadening our communications and engagement strategy so that we connect with new audiences, in new ways.
At the heart of this approach is making IP relevant and relatable to everyone, everywhere.
From the young Kenyan entrepreneur Navalayo Osembo-Ombati who is using IP to grow ENDA her running shoes business.
…to Kim Haneul who is transforming discarded face masks into a new furniture brand in the Republic of Korea.
…to Maria Sanchez Amono who is part of an Argentinean team that has patented a new type of roof tile made from recycled materials.
IP is lifting up people and communities around the world, and we need to share these stories.
As we move forward, we will continue to find new ways of reaching groups such as youth, women and small and medium sized enterprises who have too often been on the margins of the IP ecosystem.
This year’s World IP Day was centered on the theme of “SMEs – taking your ideas to market”. It was the most successful IP Day in WIPO’s history, with the greatest number of engagements all over the world as we worked with all of you to bring the IP message to this important community, the SMEs.
Our work to serve the underserved will continue, and I can share with you that the theme for next year’s World IP Day will be on IP and Youth.
Many of you have also underlined the importance of IP and Gender issues, and I take this opportunity to reiterate our full support in finding concrete ways to bring greater gender inclusivity to the global IP ecosystem.
Under our second pillar, WIPO will continue to play an active role as a shaper of global IP norms and standards, and be the global convener for the discussion of IP issues.
While these roles have faced challenges over the last twelve months, WIPO will continue to find new ways of bringing the international community together to advance the normative agenda, build respect for IP and share perspectives on emerging issues such as IP and Frontier Technologies.
More broadly, the number of Member States joining WIPO-administered treaties continues to expand, with 45 accessions and ratifications in the past year and a further 26 accessions and ratifications during the first half of this year.
The Marrakesh Treaty, which expands learning and education possibilities for the over 250 million people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled, remains WIPO’s fastest growing Treaty.
In just five years, it has grown to cover 107 countries worldwide.
But when it comes to Marrakesh – and the work of WIPO’s Accessible Books Consortium – it is not the statistics that take center stage but the people whose lives it has changed around the world.
From supporting young people in their education, to boosting and furthering careers, to delivering new leisure and learning possibilities, the Marrakesh Treaty is another powerful example of IP in action.
WIPO has also stepped-up our engagement with other intergovernmental organizations over the last twelve months.
Through our enhanced trilateral cooperation with the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization, we are supporting societies and economies to overcome the pandemic and rebuild.
WIPO’s stance has been clear and consistent: we believe in vaccine equity and that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
But the goal of achieving vaccine equity is complex and multi-faceted.
This is why in June, the Directors General of the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization and I met and we agreed, all three of us, to strengthen our cooperation by developing cohesive cross-Agency solutions to the challenges that our economies and you face in overcoming the pandemic.
We agreed to organize a series of technical capacity-building workshops and to combine our expertise on access, IP and trade matters in a joint platform of trilateral technical assistance.
The first trilateral workshop on technology transfer and licensing took place last week with over 200 participants from around the world.
This enhanced trilateral cooperation sits alongside WIPO’s own package of COVID-19 response measures, which will see an additional 3 million Swiss francs set aside over the next biennium to support you.
Through tailored technical assistance and capacity building support, including on vital issues such as tech transfer, WIPO is stepping up measures across all fronts to support its Members in containing the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and to build back better.
Under our third pillar, we will work to strengthen the provision of global IP services, knowledge and data.
In spite of the challenges presented by the pandemic, PCT filings grew by almost 4 per cent last year, with only marginal declines in both the Madrid and Hague systems.
For this year, PCT filings are up a further 2 per cent during the first six months.. And we have seen a strong rebound in Madrid and Hague filings up 18 per cent and 10 per cent respectively, year-on-year.
WIPO will continue to modernize the provision of these services that innovators and creators use, with a strong emphasis on engaging more extensively with our customers, so that we will be able to serve them more effectively.
We will also support the development of key reports such as the Global Innovation Index, as well platforms like WIPO GREEN and WIPO Re:Search platforms that are helping to address global challenges and making progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Under the fourth pillar, WIPO’s Development Agenda will look at how we can be impact-driven, rather than just activity-driven. We will not do this in a one-size-fits-all approach, but customize it so that it is tailor-made to the unique circumstances of individual Member States.
Our ambition is to enable all countries – especially developing countries and LDCs – to use IP as a powerful tool for economic and social development.
To give just one example of this approach, I would like to speak briefly about WIPO’s program on Women Entrepreneurs and IP in the least developed countries.
Working in close collaboration with an NGO in Uganda – which itself was established by an alumni of a previous WIPO project – the program began by providing mentorship to a group of female entrepreneurs on how IP can help their business to grow.
With WIPO’s support, individual action plans have been created for each member of the group, with a focus on issues such as business registration and trademark filing.
Caroline Matovu is one of the entrepreneurs we are supporting.
Caroline created a homemade detergent in her back garden, Trion, which is being used by hospitals, supermarkets and schools to keep surfaces clean and protect public health as Uganda fights the pandemic.
Instead of the usual short seminar or workshop lasting days, our relationship with the in-country NGO is enabling us to provide more intensive on the ground support for these entrepreneurs lasting weeks and months.
In Caroline’s case, she has quickly created a strong brand that people have come to trust. Thanks to her involvement in the program Caroline is currently pursuing a trademark to underpin the quality of her product and support her as she takes her brand to the rest of the country and beyond
Last month, we began a similar project in Sudan and are in the process of rolling this out in other countries too.
The power of this approach is that it transforms IP into a clear driver of business growth–allowing innovators and creators from anywhere to recognize IP as a powerful tool for realizing their hopes and aspirations.
The Foundation of the Four Pillars and all this work is the exceptional people that make up WIPO.
Time and again the staff of this Organization have risen to meet the challenges we have faced over the last twelve months.
My deepest gratitude goes to my colleagues throughout the organization for their professionalism, resilience and commitment, which has enabled WIPO to adapt to a different way of working whilst delivering the results you as Members have come to expect of us.
But this Foundation can be made even stronger.
Through our new HR Strategy we have made a very candid assessment of how WIPO’s organizational culture needs to evolve, and how we are committed to fostering an open, collaborative and inclusive culture – one that suits an organization whose mission is to support innovators and creators around the world.
Diversity will remain an important goal for us, as I believe that it is a source of strength and will allow us to better connect with all regions in the world.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt global economies, I am gratified to share that WIPO has maintained a healthy financial position over the last twelve months. Our surpluses last year were at the highest ever in the history of the organization.
However, healthy financials is not a state of affairs we can take for granted given the uncertainties of the global economy.
Moreover, we owe it to Members to ensure that we continue using our resources responsibly, efficiently and prudently, so that we can invest in future infrastructure and skills, in order to continue serving you well.
Coupled with strong governance that will draw on the best practices within the UN family and beyond, we will manage and administer this organization in an efficient, effective and energetic manner.
As always, you have an extremely busy agenda ahead of you this week.
You will take, with the guidance of our Chair, a number of important decisions for the Organization, including on our program of work and budget, and on the work plans of our committees and working groups over the coming year.
I would also like to reiterate the great importance that WIPO attaches to multilingualism as a core value of the UN system.
Our administration sees multilingualism as firmly linked to our broader efforts at engaging a wider audience with the important work we are undertaking here at WIPO. Multilingualism helps to drive multilateralism and we are delighted that the revised policy on languages has been recommended for approval.
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
We meet against the backdrop of the greatest challenge humanity has faced in modern times – an inflection point which will come to define our collective future and that of generations to come.
While the path ahead will not be easy, it is through innovation and creativity that we will overcome the pandemic and build back in a fair, inclusive and sustainable way.
But innovation and creativity need to be carefully and skillfully nurtured, in order that they may truly create impact.
If we do this right, our future will be one where every WIPO Member uses IP as a powerful tool to create jobs, attract investments, grow businesses, and ultimately develop economies and societies.
And so with your steadfast support, active encouragement, and strong partnership, I’m confident that we will bring about this change, and together achieve our vision of a world where innovation and creativity from anywhere is supported by IP for the good of everyone.