2016 Address of the Director General

WIPO Assemblies – October 3 to 11, 2016

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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 2016 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 congratulate Ambassador Kārkliņš on his election as Chair of the Assemblies and I look forward to working with him in the coming week and year.  I should like to express my thanks to the outgoing Chair, Ambassador Gabriel Duque of Colombia, for his exemplary and committed leadership as Chair over the past year and extend to him my best wishes for his new posting.

Very good progress has been made across the Organization over the course of the past 12 months.  The financial results of the Organization are outstanding.  We ended the 2014-2015 biennium with an overall surplus of CHF 70.3 million.  The net assets of the Organization grew, and stood at CHF 279.1 million at the end of 2015.  We are tracking well in the current, 2016-2017 biennium.  While it is still too early in both the year and the biennium to give estimates of likely results, we are confident that the results of the first year of the biennium, 2016, will be positive and will yield an overall surplus.

While the financial condition of the Organization is very sound, there is little room for complacency.  The outlook for the world economy remains risk-prone and uncertain.  The Organization’s budget is in Swiss francs, with the consequence that negative interest rates remain a challenge for treasury management, and exchange rates are a constant risk factor that needs to be managed.  In addition, the immediate horizon sees the likelihood of increasing expenditure in the information technology (IT) systems on which our revenue-generating Global IP Systems are based, as well as in safety and security, including cyber security.

The Global IP Systems – the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Madrid System for marks and the Hague System for designs – all performed well.  The geographical coverage of the systems continued to expand, although there are still regions that are significantly under-represented in the Madrid and Hague Systems.  Like the geographical coverage, the user base of the systems continued to deepen and to evolve in line with recent trends in economic capacity and performance worldwide.  In the PCT, for example, 43.5% of all international patent applications filed in 2015 originated in Asia, compared to 27.6% in North America and 27% in Europe.  The system undergoing the most rapid development is the Hague System for designs.  After decades of indifferent performance, applications under the Hague System grew by 40.6% in 2015, as a result of the recent accessions of several major economies.   We expect an increase of a similar magnitude in 2016.

A major cause for celebration was the entry into force last week, on September 30, of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.  I thank the 20 Contracting Parties whose accessions brought the treaty into effect, and, in particular, India, which led the way with the deposit of the first instrument of ratification; Latin America, which constituted the region with the largest number of countries represented in the initial 20 Contracting Parties; and Australia and Canada, the first developed countries to accede to the treaty. 

We have also made significant progress with the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), a partnership of all relevant stakeholders that supports practically the aims of the Marrakesh Treaty through the exchange of books in accessible formats, capacity building and the promotion of accessible publishing.  ABC has so far facilitated the loans of accessible books to 100,000 visually impaired people through its 19 participating libraries in 16 countries.  It currently contains 319,000 titles in more than 76 languages.  Participating libraries saved USD 11 million in production costs (for a book read aloud by a person) by being able to download 5,500 electronic books into their collections.

A great many other positive results have been achieved by the Organization in the past year in many fields.  The global databases and IT platforms and systems managed by the Organization have expanded in functionality and in use across the world.  The Global Innovation Index, which is jointly produced by WIPO, and our other economic and statistical reports have received significant worldwide recognition.  Our technical assistance and capacity building programs across the Organization have experienced growing demand.  These and results in other areas are described in detail in my written report and I shall not enter into the details of them this morning.  I should like only to repeat the tribute I have paid in my written report to the talented and dedicated staff of the Organization who have made so many of these achievements possible.

Looking to the future, some of the most important challenges lie, as always, in the advancement of the normative program.  On the agenda of these Assemblies is the proposed Design Law Treaty (DLT).  Two issues remained unresolved at the time of the last Assemblies and prevented the convening of a diplomatic conference to conclude the treaty this year.  The Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Designs and Geographical Indications earlier this year came very close to reaching an agreed position on the two issues.  There was widespread agreement on a common approach, with only isolated resistance.  I very much hope that the Member States will be able to bridge the remaining difference in this meeting and decide to convene the diplomatic conference in 2017.

Such a result would build confidence for the important work that needs to be accomplished in other areas of the normative program.  Allow me to mention two such areas.  The first is intellectual property and traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources.  At last year’s Assemblies, the Member States established an ambitious work program for the Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) that is managing this area.  Steady progress has been made in the year to date by the IGC, but it is clear that a very concentrated effort at a political level will be required in the coming year in order to report positive results to the 2017 Assemblies.   I would urge the Member States to make this effort, and to do so in a spirit of compromise, so that this long-standing item can be brought to a successful conclusion.

The other long-standing item in the normative program is broadcasting.  Like traditional knowledge, it does not arise for decision in these Assemblies.  While some further progress has been made in the past year in the technical understanding of the issues and in defining a way forward, the time has come, after 20 years, for Member States to decide in a definitive manner what they wish to do with this item.  I hope that the coming year will see such resolution demonstrated on the part of the Member States.

Looking further into the future, I believe that the principal challenge that the Organization faces is complexity.  The nature of intellectual property itself and its role in an economy in which value resides increasingly in intellectual assets, and in which technology and innovation are developing at accelerating speeds, is now inherently more complex.  This development is raising fundamental questions about the fitness of old categories to new phenomena, which we see reported on an almost daily basis in many areas ranging from the creative industries to the life sciences. 

This subject-matter complexity is developing in a world of great asymmetries in knowledge capacity.  A number of the Member States of this Organization have pre-industrial economies and may be pre-occupied with such questions as the transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture.  They may quite legitimately strive to see the ways in which intellectual property can be relevant to their challenges.  Other Member States have economies that are post-industrial, where intellectual property is central to their competitive model and to their competitive advantage.  In between, there are economies with mixed models, with areas of excellence in innovation, science and technology, but otherwise a commodities profile or intermediate manufacturing capacity.

There is a second type of complexity that has developed, partly, or even largely, as a result of the first, subject-matter complexity.  It is institutional complexity.  Because intellectual property is central to the economic strategy of many economies, and because it concerns subject-matter that is moving at lightning speed, these economies have naturally sought to advance their interests and to address questions wherever the opportunity presents itself.  In consequence, we have seen the emergence of very active agendas in IP at the national, bilateral, plurilateral, regional and multilateral levels.  In an age of globalization, all these agendas affect each other.  For example, a national law will affect all those trading into that market.

Many questions arise out of this complexity.  The central one for the future of this Organization is the role of the multilateral in this new landscape of multi-speed and multi-layered complexity.  It is a design question really.  What is the value added by the multilateral and what can or should be done at the multilateral level, as opposed to other levels?  Will multilateral organizations like ours become paralyzed by complexity or will they find ways to contribute to the management of complexity that provide benefits for the full range of diverse membership that a multilateral organization encompasses?

Let me return now to the complexity of the agenda of the current Assemblies and wish you all success in resolving it.  I hope that your decisions will set an orientation that advances the Organization to a new level in the coming year.