WIPO Member States Meet in Geneva Amid Internal Unrest

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry (Photo: WIPO/E.Berrod)

Earlier today the Fifty-First Series of Meetings of the Assemblies of the Member States of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) began in Geneva, Switzerland, and will run through October 2, 2013. This meeting of Member States comes at a time of internal unrest for WIPO. On September 19, 2013 several members of the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the U.S. government to oppose the re-election of WIPO Director General Francis Gurry who is serving the final year of his first six-year term.

The letter was sent by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Congressman Howard Coble (R-NC) and Congressman Melvin Watt (D-NC). Lofgren, Coble and Watt are all members of the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, with Coble serving as Chair and Watt serving as the Ranking Member. Ros-Lehtinen is Chair of the House Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs. Esho serves as Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The letter, brief and to the point, states:

We understand that the process for election of the WIPO Director General has just begun, and that the incumbent, Francis Gurry, has signaled his interested in being re-elected for another six year term.

We urge the Administration not to support Mr. Gurry’s bid for re-election. Early last year it was discovered that he had been using WIPO funds to send secret shipments of expensive American-made computer equipment to North Korea and Iran. This is activity that would have put any U.S. citizen behind bars, but when caught in the act, Gurry did not stop or even apologize. Instead he claimed that U.S. law was of no concern to him or WIPO. Then he refused to allow WIPO witnesses to testify in a bipartisan investigation being conducted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The letter goes on to ask the Administration to “work diligently to identify and support an alternate candidate for leadership” of WIPO. Gurry’s term in office as Director General expires on September 30, 2014.

In his e-mail newsletter last week, Hal Wegner explained that this Congressional letter to Secretary Kerry “outlines manifest friction between the Director General and his Deputy, Jim Pooley.” Pooley, a former litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster, was nominated by the Obama Administration in May 2009 to become Deputy Director General at the WIPO. In 2009 Pooley had also reportedly been considered for the post of Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The friction between Pooley and Gurry has been something of an open secret. While not widely reported, as far as I can tell Wegner is accurate when he says this Congressional letter touches on a point of friction. I have heard at various times about the cool relationship between the two, and I have been told that Pooley unsuccessfully objected to WIPO’s sale of computers to North Korea.

Meanwhile, the United States is also combatting the attempted dismantling of the Innovation Division. IP-Watch has reported:

Programme 30 was reinstalled at the request of member states during the last [Program and Budget Committee] PBC meeting in July.

However, the US said it was concerned that only [small and mid-size enterprizes] SMEs had been reinstalled in programme 30, and not the innovation part of the programme. The US wants the innovation division to remain intact with the same amount of funding and the same number of posts, said the delegate.

The creation of the innovation division made sense in 2011 and still does, he argued. “The US cannot understand why after less than a year in existence the secretariat wants to cast the various functions of programme 30 and the staff of the innovation division to the far reaches of the organisation.” Despite the fact the unit was approved for the 2012/2013 biennium, “we understand that the abolishment of the division” through staff moves is already underway, the delegate said, “which we strongly oppose.”

The US challenged the secretariat’s ability to “abruptly dismantle” the programme. “We member states decide what the priorities are for the organisation, not the secretariat.”

Thus, the next 10 days in Geneva may be particularly interesting to watch, and things only promise to get more interesting as we approach the end of the year and see whether Gurry will be re-elected or if Pooley or some other candidate emerges with sufficient backing to gain the appointment as next Director General of WIPO.

The deadline for submission of candidates is December 6, 2013.


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Join the Discussion

10 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for James Love]
    James Love
    September 25, 2013 09:12 am

    It is not obvious what it takes to get to 51 percent of the votes for DG, but being backed by the US government is not by itself sufficient. WIPO would not be limited to a choice between Gurry and Poole.

  • [Avatar for MaxDrei]
    September 25, 2013 02:55 am

    Yesterday I replied to Gene at 3, particularly his notion of “extreme clout”.

    I see that my reply did not make it through.

    Never mind. Let us see if this one makes it through.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    September 24, 2013 05:05 pm


    Unfortunately, I can only agree with you that the experiment (while noble in idea) has failed miserably with the actual practices of the United Nations.

    I further feel that the only thing that should keep us from a full and complete pull-out is what might transpire in the absence of our involvement.

    That being said though, I still feel that the ideal that we strive for should NOT be confused with the fact that we foot the bill to an inordinate level.

    Yes, perhaps we should push for a more balanced payment system (and a reimbursement for our past overpayments).

    But in any case, we should also be firmly aware that any such international body WILL NOT have our own individual sovereign interests at heart (and in reality, should not have our interests carry an inordinate proportion of power).

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    September 24, 2013 04:34 pm


    You say: “basing a position on the equivalent of graft is surely a poor manner of making a legal point.”

    I agree wholeheartedly except when the United Nations is involved. Let’s face it, the United Nations is one of the most overtly corrupt entities in the world. Any group that could put terrorist nations on the Human Rights Council has gone well beyond “jumping the shark.”

    I really think WIPO is a tremendous organization. I wrote about the computers to North Korea incident because it was news and I did (and still do) lament that WIPO, which does such good and seems largely apolitical, managed to muddy its image and accomplishments in such a manner.

    Given that the U.S. pays the bills and no one else seems at all interested in stepping up to the plate, I suspect that if the U.S. mounts a concerted effort to replace Gurry he will be replaced.


  • [Avatar for Anon]
    September 24, 2013 03:56 pm

    Sorry, AC, it is not a matter of naiveté, but rather, a matter of pragmatisim and realizing that legal arguments still need to be based on ‘valid’ premises that you are willing to believe in.

    We all know how the real world works.

    But basing a position on the equivalent of graft is surely a poor manner of making a legal point.

    After all, how many legal arguments are advanced by such statements as “Your Honor, my client is extremely wealthy and powerful and deserves to be able to avoid having to follow the law of ‘_____’ ” (fill in the blank with anything from payign taxes to committing murder).

    Yes, the cynic in each of us realizes that those with power and money can – and do – get away with more than those without power and money, but in legal discussions, such non-fantasy is a non-starter.

    After all, I imagine that you still cast a vote on election day, right?

  • [Avatar for American Cowboy]
    American Cowboy
    September 24, 2013 02:46 pm

    Anon, are you naïve enough to think that democracies (think Congress, your state legislature, your city council) have no link between money and votes? If so, I will definitely know to disregard your posts as unreliable from now on, as based on fantasy.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    September 23, 2013 09:40 pm

    Sorry Gene, but I could not disagree with you more about the apparent link you are making between money and votes.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    September 23, 2013 05:29 pm


    I don’t know whether only an American is acceptable to the US, but someone who is willing to follow the law would be preferable.

    The transfer for computers to North Korea violated UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. So Gurry can say he doesn’t really care about U.S. law, but there is no reason to tolerate an arm of the United Nations ignoring Security Counsel Resolutions.

    Further, as an American I am troubled by anyone at the UN saying they really don’t care about U.S. law. There is an old saying in the U.S. about the person who owns the ball and the bat being the one who sets the rules. The U.S. has been the largest financial supporter of the U.N. since the organization’s founding in 1945, providing close to 25% of the funding for what is allegedly an international body. So, to put it directly, if the rest of the world doesn’t want to care about U.S. law then perhaps they should step forward financially. Of course, that won’t happen.

    I don’t have first hand information about whether Gurry was involved with the decision to send computers to North Korea in violation of U.S. law and in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions. What I do know is that I have been told he was advised not to do it and WIPO went ahead anyway. If that happened it is either an altruistic mistake as WIPO sought to help one of the more backwards third-world countries in the world, or it was intentional and arrogant. Either scenario doesn’t seem good for someone who want to continue to head WIPO.

    Time will tell whether the U.S. really opposes Gurry, but if the U.S. does mount a substantial challenge why wouldn’t that carry extreme clout? It will and it should.


  • [Avatar for MaxDrei]
    September 23, 2013 03:55 pm

    I’m not sure I understand what is so heinous about the World Intellectual Property Organisation supplying bog standard PC’s to two of its member countries. Is the objection that the equipment is “expensive”, is it that it is (unlike Apple phones made in China) “American-made”, is it that the supply was supposed to have been done in “secret” or is it all a national security issue, that without this supply there would be no PC’s in North Korea or Iran?

    Is it this issue or another one, which has Gurry and Pooley at loggerheads.

    Gurry is an Australian, is he not. Is that not good enough for the Office of DG of WIPO? Is nothing acceptable but an American?

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    September 23, 2013 03:05 pm

    As loath as I am to say this, Mr. Gurry is absolutely correct to say “so what?” to the US points.

    WIPO is not an arm of US policy.

    Those who calmor for an international patent and laws of harmonization need to remember that patent laws (currently) exist to serve sovereign interests – not transantional ones. If you make more and more moves to a transnational state, be prepared for the loss of sovereign control.