Legal Era in an exclusive interview with the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Francis Gurry......
Established in 1967, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), is the global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation. A self-funding agency of the United Nations, WIPO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and currently has 188-member states across the world.
WIPO's mission is to lead development of a balanced and effective international Intellectual Property (IP) system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all. WIPO's mandate, governing bodies and procedures are set out in the WIPO Convention which established WIPO in 1967. WIPO helps governments, businesses and society to realise the benefits of IP. It provides: a policy forum to shape balanced international IP rules for a changing world; global services to protect IP across borders and resolve disputes; technical infrastructure to connect IP systems and share knowledge; cooperation and capacity-building programs to enable all countries to use IP for economic, social and cultural development and a world reference source for IP information.
WIPO's member states approve WIPO's strategic direction and activities in annual meetings of its Assemblies. Some 250 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) have official observer status at WIPO meetings.
Leading WIPO is Director General Francis Gurry. Having led the Organization as Director General from October 1, 2008, he was reappointed in May 2014 for a second sixyear term, which runs through September 2020.
Under Gurry's leadership, WIPO is addressing major challenges including reducing the knowledge gap between developed and developing countries; ensuring that the IP system serves its fundamental purpose of encouraging creativity and innovation in all countries; managing stress on international patent and copyright systems produced by rapid technological change, globalisation and increased demand and so on. To help WIPO improve its functioning and better address evolving challenges, Gurry has led a comprehensive program of organizational change, realigning WIPO's programs, resources and structures with re-defined strategic goals.
Legal Era Magazine from ARA Legal Media Group caught up with Gurry to better get to know the opportunities and challenges facing WIPO...
LE: Sir, you were reappointed Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in May 2014 for a second six-year term which runs through 2020. How do you feel about this and what do you think prompted the move?
The member states of WIPO did me a great honour in reappointing me for a second six-year term at the helm of the Organization. This reaffirms their faith in me as Director General and is a resounding endorsement of the direction that I have taken the Organization during my first mandate. This included a strategic realignment program that I launched in 2008, which has resulted in increased efficiency and more prudent financial management. During my first term, I also made inclusiveness a major priority, championing participation by developing countries in the IP system so as to reap benefits of the knowledge economy. My first term also saw the conclusion of two major international treaties, including the first ever IP treaty that formalised exceptions and limitations to copyright (the Marrakesh Treaty). While multilateralism seemed at a standstill in other international fora, WIPO member states were able to come together on important issues and agree multinational treaties by consensus. I was proud to have been able to oversee such major achievements in the world of IP, for the benefit of both creators and consumers. Under my tenure as Director General, the Organization has also seen a growth in the efficiency and effectiveness of WIPO's Global Intellectual Property Services, namely the international patent, trademark and design systems which also secure funding for WIPO.
LE: Tell us more about WIPO and what it does?
"IP Rights capture the value of innovation, creating a secure environment for investment in innovation and providing a legal framework for trading in intellectual assets"
Intellectual Property (IP) is an important component of international trade, cultural and economic activity. IP rights capture the value of innovation, creating a secure environment for investment in innovation and providing a legal framework for trading in intellectual assets. IP ensures that people and companies benefit from their creativity and innovation. WIPO helps innovators promote their work around the world. It also provides a global arena in which governments and other stakeholders work out IP standards and rules among our 188-member states. Further, we promote partnerships for development and technical advice to countries seeking to benefit from the global IP system. In essence, WIPO works to provide a balanced and effective international IP system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all.
LE: What are the challenges facing WIPO today? What steps are you taking to address these challenges?
Today's world is dynamic and in constant evolution. As such, the Organization needs to remain responsive, efficient and equipped to provide global leadership on IP issues.
Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed rapid transition of the creative economy from an analogue marketplace distributing physical goods to a digital marketplace distributing digital content over the Internet. The analogue creative economy tended to function on a local or at the most national scale, while the digital creative economy is capable of functioning easily on a worldwide scale. The rapid evolution of technology that has accompanied this transition from analogue to digital has on the one hand made more creative works available to more people than ever before, and has allowed us all to be both creators and consumers of creative works. But on the other hand, this exponential increase in the number and accessibility of works has led to a significant loss of economic value to creators, performers and the creative sector. Technology has facilitated widespread illegal downloading and streaming of content, in part, by making these activities simple.
The challenge is to establish a seamless global digital marketplace, which makes it as easy to get content legally as it has been to get it illegally. The creation of such a marketplace is complex and delicate considering the prominent role played by the private sector rather the public sector.
As one small step in this process, WIPO has been looking at ways to encourage a constructive dialogue on challenges of the evolving global digital content marketplace. As part of that effort, WIPO hosted a conference in April 2016 bringing together a multiplicity of stakeholders in this area in order to seek clarity on the issues and possible steps to encourage development of this vital, legal marketplace.
In the area of innovation, the patent system is centuries old and has seen continuous adaptation to new technologies and the needs of the marketplace. In addition to incentivising investment in innovation, the patent system constitutes a major source of economic and technological intelligence. It is responsible for constructing the most complete, systematic and accessible record of humanity's technology. With our member states, we are constantly looking at the set of policies that govern the patent system to ensure that they best serve the needs of innovators and society at large today. WIPO is dedicated to working towards a balanced IP system that fosters innovation and brings practical benefits of the system to individuals and national economies, including those in the developing world. We work actively with national governments to foster inclusive, innovative and creative industries.
Another central challenge is to ensure that WIPO's Global IP Systems - that facilitate the international registration and filing of patents, trademarks and designs - remain efficient and best serve the community of users of the IP system. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Madrid System for marks, and the Hague System for designs account for some 95% of the revenue of the Organization. We will continue to ensure widespread geographical participation in these Systems and adapt them according to today's realities which see a rise in Asia's share of international patent applications (some 40% of the total). WIPO is focussed on the quality of services that it provides for both IP Offices and users as well as on enhancing efficiency and the user experience.
LE: Has intellectual property gained in significance in the past few years? Why and how so?
There has been a clear and rising interest in, and demand for, intellectual property, as knowledge, technology and creative works move to the center of the contemporary economy and as governments respond by orienting economic strategies to innovation and creativity. Intellectual property is a major component of successful innovation ecosystems and thriving environments for the creative industries. This is evident in the increasing demand for IP rights around the world in past years. We also note the changing innovation landscape which has seen a significant rise in Asia's share of international patent applications.
LE: You began as a lawyer. What drew you to Intellectual Property as a field of expertise?
"The challenge is to establish a seamless Global Digital Marketplace which makes it as easy to get content legally as it has been to get it illegally"
I undertook research for a doctorate at the University of Cambridge. The subject of my research was the protection of confidential information on trade secrets. That research drew me into the field of intellectual property and, in particular, patents, in relation to which trade secrets play a complementary role.
LE: Please shed light on the milestones in your illustrious career.
I was delighted that my doctoral thesis was then published as a text book by Oxford University Press. Over the years, it has been cited in many court decisions. The second edition, which was prepared by four fine lawyers in the United Kingdom, now bears my name as the text is entitled "Gurry on Breach of Confidence", which was a great honour. Otherwise, my recruitment at WIPO and then election as Director General were highlights for me. My time as an international civil servant has been an extraordinary privilege. It has been a constant opportunity to learn and to broaden my horizons through the diverse range of persons with whom I have had the privilege to interact, persons from all walks of life and from all countries and cultures.
LE: You have authored many articles and books, one of them being "Gurry on Breach of Confidence" . Tell us more about the book and what inspired you to write it.
At the time of my research for the book, many things were starting to happen to information in society - computers were becoming standard features in life (it was early days), information was becoming more mobile and information was the basis of the assets of the embryonic knowledge economy. Breach of confidence is a legal action that protects the confidence that is created between two persons or entities through the exchange of private or confidential information. Many relationships could not function in society without this confidence - lawyer and client, doctor and patient, employer and employees, contractor and sub-contractor, licensor and licensee and so on. The legal action was not yet well described. The book was an opportunity to put together a coherent description of the legal action and to explore the social and economic role of the action.
LE: What is your advice to lawyers and legal professionals the world over, especially those in the field of intellectual property?
Be prepared for change. Intellectual Property, by definition, is concerned with the new. It is an agent of change. The pace of change is now extremely fast. In all areas, in information and communication technologies, in life sciences, in the business models for the distribution and consumption of music, publications and films. Those working in the area of intellectual property will be constantly confronted with change.