DNA Scandal Raises Pressure on WIPO Director General

Francis Gurry

UPDATED 2: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 at 9:20pm Eastern.

Francis Gurry, the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), finds himself in a precarious position this week as news has surfaced about a bizarre and presumably illegal acquisition of DNA samples from WIPO employees. Gurry has already been under pressure from Member States because he has been unable to pass a budget for WIPO, which many attribute to being uncomfortable with the cozy relationship seen between Gurry and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Gurry signed a deal to set up a WIPO office in Moscow, which reportedly has rubbed at least some Member States the wrong way.

While Member States may be unhappy about Gurry’s ties to Putin, the newly uncovered DNA scandal raises serious questions and could potentially lead to Gurry’s undoing. Already calls are being made for him to be removed from his post.

In an article published on Monday, November 18, 2013, the Tribune de Geneve explained (original article and English translation):

As Francis Gurry carries on with his decisions, his critics try to bring to the surface any information that could negatively impact his re-election. Among them, an embarrassing case involving DNA sampling. Prior to his election, Francis Gurry had been the target of anonymous letters. Convinced that the letters’ authors were among those within his entourage, the successor of Kamil Idris filed a complaint with the prosecutor in Geneva in October 2007 and surprisingly authorized the police to enter WIPO’s premises to take statements and DNA samples. But the suspected employees later discovered that additional samples had been taken from their offices without their consent and thus illegally. On November 13, an ex-employee – who was made redundant after a corruption allegation of which he has since been cleared – filed a criminal complaint for “slander” with the prosecutor of Geneva. His lawyer sent a letter to the representatives of the Member States informing them that this procedure would require them to vote to lift Francis Gurry’s diplomatic immunity…

Some of these episodes recall the very turbulent period that preceded Francis Gurry’s inauguration. A period in which no holds were barred, where secret tapings and covert surveillance were the norm. Tapes containing recordings of conversations have been found in the basement, an amateurism contrasting with the issues that confront WIPO today, justifying putting it under very strict oversight.

Scandal at WIPO is not new under the stewardship of Gurry. In 2012 WIPO came under fire for sending computers to both North Korea and Iran in violation of United Nations sanctions. See WIPO Embroiled in North Korean Computer Deal and State Department Unhappy with WIPO. The transfer for computers violated UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. For the record, from what I have been told Jim Pooley, who is Deputy Director General at WIPO and a former litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster, unsuccessfully objected to the aforementioned computer deals, which suggests that there is tension at the highest ranks within WIPO.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) called this WIPO transgression “an outrage.”  At a 2012 hearing where Deputy USPTO Director Teresa Rea was a witness, Lofgren went on: “Really, it’s an outrage that WIPO would be transferring material, violating the sanctions that we have to North Korea and Iran…  I mean it’s basically, it’s funded by U.S. inventors.”

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 September 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.

Once again, on November 21, 2013, another letter was sent to Secretary of State John Kerry, this time by a growing number of House Members on both sides of the political aisle.  This letter urged the Obama Administration to support an alternative candidate to become Director General of WIPO in light of the growing scandals engulfing Gurry. This November letter was signed by Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Congressman Mike McCaul (R-TX), Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA), Congressman Gene Green (D-TX), Henry Cuellar (D-TX)

Still, Hal Wegner reported in his widely read e-mail news report earlier today: “Several very senior European patent experts with no axe to grind have expressed amazement at the opposition to Gurry; they consider Gurry to have done a fine job in leading WIPO in this difficult period.”

I personally do not know Gurry, although I have met him on several occasions and have found him to be extremely cordial and very well informed. I do believe WIPO is an excellent organization that has done a lot of good as they seek to spread intellectual property regimes to countries throughout the world, which in turn significantly increases economic activity and opportunity. Still, I do not see any reason to tolerate an arm of the United Nations that ignores Security Counsel Resolutions. Furthermore, if this DNA scandal ultimately results in a finding that Gurry engaged in illegal behavior how could be possibly continue as Director General of WIPO? It would seem to me that all credibility would be lost and all the good work WIPO does will be ignored, which jeopardizes the critical mission of the agency.

In any event, Gurry is in the United States today. I understand that he will be meeting with certain Member of Congress. He will also be giving a lecture this evening at the George Washington University Law School.


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