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

Francis Gurry Addresses WIPO General Assembly

December 2008

The following is a synopsis of Mr. Gurry’s acceptance speech to the WIPO General Assembly on his election as Director General, in which he outlined challenges and priorities for the Organization in the years ahead.

Mr. Gurry's acceptance speech outlined his priorities for the future and committed to the strategic realignment of the Organization. (Photo: WIPO/Mercedes Martínez Dozal)

The evolution of technology, economy and society in recent years has raised a number of challenges of a fundamental nature for this Organization. The most fundamental of all is perhaps the attention that is directed at intellectual property (IP). As a highly specialized subject matter, IP enjoyed many long and quiet years in the shade before, quite suddenly, in the last two decades, coming under the full glare of the blazing sun of public opinion and scrutiny. The management of this climate change in the world of IP is itself a major task.

In this regard, it is useful to remember that IP is not an end in itself. It is an instrumentality for achieving certain public policies – most notably, through patents, designs and copyright, the stimulation and diffusion of innovation and creativity on which we have become so dependent, and through trademarks, geographical indications and unfair competition law, the establishment of order in the market and the countering of those enemies of markets and consumers: uncertainty, confusion and fraud. In the end, our debates and discussions are about how IP can best serve those underlying policies: whether modifying the international framework will enhance or constrain innovation and creativity and contribute to their diffusion, and whether it will add confusion, rather than clarity, to the functioning of the market.

There are a number of developments that risk impairing the capacity of the IP system to deliver on its basic mission of stimulating innovation and creativity and contributing to market order. WIPO needs to anticipate and to address the implications of these developments.

The patent system

A first development is the infusion of technology into every aspect of our daily lives and into every part of economic existence. As the trend has accelerated, the economic value of innovation has increased and, with it, the desire to acquire property rights over the frontiers of knowledge. The functional consequence of this trend is that the system is becoming a victim of its own success. Patent Offices are choking on demand and struggling to perform in a manner that is timely enough to be responsive to the needs of the economy. There are an estimated 3.5 million unexamined patent applications in the world today. The quality of the output of Patent Offices, pushed to cope with such strong demand, is also under critical scrutiny.

The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) was designed to provide a multilateral means of dealing with the growth of demand and internationalization of the patent system. However, it is not providing a sufficiently adequate solution to the crisis in demand management. The problem is of such a critical and urgent nature that a solution will be found. It is of fundamental importance that the solution be a multilateral one, rather than one established by a group or groups of the most adversely affected States. The PCT provides a better basis for constructing the future solution than any other.

Creative works in the digital environment

The twentieth century model of returning value to creators, performers and their business associates, which relied on the distribution of physical packages containing the works, is under the most radical of threats from the convergence of expression in digital technology and the distributional power of the Internet. This development may work to the disadvantage of the developing world where creators and performers do not have the same access to the Internet, bandwidth and alternate models of obtaining financial rewards as their counterparts in the developed world.

For the whole world, incentives to the creation of content for the educational system and the enrichment of our lives with literature, music, films and other creative works are fundamental questions. As in the case of the choking of the patent system, solutions will be found. The market itself may find the solutions in the systems of private law and in the private application of technological solutions. But it would be unfortunate if we were to move from a centuries-old system of publicly created and overseen rights to systems of private law, simply by default as opposed to conscious choice. Consumers far outnumber creators and performers, making the political management of such discussion uncomfortable. This feature of domestic politics, as well as the global nature of file-sharing on the Internet, suggests that it may be more appropriate to conduct the discussion at the international, rather than the national, level. I believe that WIPO remains the right forum to conduct this discussion.

Illegal downloading and counterfeiting

The widespread illegal downloading of music and films from the Internet raises more generally the question of respect for IP. The counterfeiting of physical products, which has spread to many sectors of the economy, is raising serious concerns for health and safety and consumer protection. The value of counterfeit goods in international trade is estimated to exceed US$200 billion per annum. Plurilateral accords to deal with the scourge are under consideration. Reflection is needed on the appropriate role in this area for WIPO: Should that role be confined to awareness-raising and the training of customs officials, the police and the judiciary? Or should it encompass a more robust engagement, and, if so, alone or in cooperation with other concerned international agencies?

Broadening the IP horizon

No less important are developments that call upon the IP system to broaden its horizon and to make its mission more attuned to the collective consciousness of the international community. First and foremost is the question of how IP can contribute to the reduction of the knowledge gap and to greater participation on the part of the developing and least developed countries (LDCs) in the benefits of innovation and the knowledge economy. IP alone is not going to bring about the solution to differential levels of development, but the recent consensus on the WIPO Development Agenda provides a wonderful opportunity for the Organization to be part of the solution.

For the Development Agenda to fulfill this promise, I believe that it is essential that we translate the political consensus into concrete and effective projects. The opportunity exists for the Organization to construct a global knowledge infrastructure, comprising public, freely available databases of technological and scientific information and operating on common standards for data interchange. Such an infrastructure would contribute in a practical way to share the social benefit of IP systems. Through office automation and training, IP offices and research institutions and universities in the developing world could be equipped to participate in this infrastructure.

The Development Agenda offers an opportunity for WIPO to review the effectiveness of its service delivery in the area of capacity building. I believe that the adoption by countries of National Intellectual Property and Innovation Strategies, which WIPO could assist in developing, where so desired, would provide excellent vehicles for aligning the capacity-building activities of the Organization with the economic resource base and the economic objectives and priorities of countries.

The Development Agenda and WIPO’s capacity-building activities also provide an opportunity to address the special needs of LDCs. I propose to build upon my predecessor’s initiative of establishing an LDC Division by strengthening the human and financial resources in this Division.

There is also a dimension to the Development Agenda which calls for a continual analysis and reflection on the best means of making IP work to the advantage of all countries, regardless of their level of development. The Secretariat needs to be better equipped with resources for economic research and statistics in order to provide the Member States with a sound empirical basis for that reflection. I intend to establish a Division to provide impact studies to support Member-State processes; to anticipate developments affecting the world of IP; and to equip management with the means of identifying future strategic developments that may impact upon the Organization.

The protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions is another area that has been identified as a means of broadening IP to make it more responsive to the needs of the developing world. It has become apparent that there is a need to recognize explicitly the contribution to human society of collectively generated and maintained innovation and creativity and to protect the artifacts of that innovation and creativity. The Organization has undertaken a long process of discussion and negotiation on the means of meeting this need. I believe that it is time to move this process to concrete outcomes that will see WIPO embrace a broader base of constituents and a more universal mission.

Closer cooperation within the United Nations system

WIPO is not alone in facing challenges of a fundamental nature. Many of those fundamental challenges have been identified in the Millennium Development Goals and others have been identified through the collective expression of concerned governments, commentators, the media and civil society. They include climate change, desertification, epidemics, access to health care, food security and the preservation of biodiversity. History shows that human society has usually turned to technology, the application of science to the solution of practical problems, as one of the principal means for dealing with threats and difficulties confronting it. Policies designed to stimulate the creation and diffusion of technology are thus directly relevant to the consideration of the ways in which the global community can respond to the problems. I propose to establish a Division that will actively engage in the dialogue and search for solutions that take place in the international community, focusing on the specific contribution that IP and WIPO can make within the framework of collective action to address these global challenges.

A functional Organization

For WIPO to address these, and other, challenges, we need a functional Organization. The Organization is not only the Secretariat but also its Member States, the users of WIPO services and non-governmental stakeholders. A precondition to the effective functioning of the Organization is trusted communication among these various actors. This will be a priority from the outset. I shall endeavor to find ways in which to communicate better to all our constituents and to intensify the dialogue between constituents.

I plan to undertake a thorough process of strategic realignment in the coming years. It will cover the corporate culture of the Secretariat, the efficiency of business processes and the alignment of programs, structure and resources to the Organization’s strategic goals. To my colleagues in the Secretariat, I would emphasize that the process will be, and will require, a collective effort and I look forward to working with all of you and count on your support.

I have offered more questions than solutions. The questions challenge the capacity of multilateralism to provide timely responses. They are, in many ways, generational questions, and it would be a pity to see them squandered in polemics and in the narrow considerations of local politics. The challenge for the multilateral community is that these generational questions are arising more and more frequently because the pace of technological progress is reducing the time separating the generations. Responding to the questions will require our combined ingenuity and versatility.

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