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Global IP Agency In Search of a New Leader

February 5, 2014

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is the main international body for the conclusion of international Intellectual property treaties; it also runs a set of widely-used international IP registration systems, among them the PCT system that allows patent applicants to simultaneously seek protection for an invention in over 140 countries. In short, WIPO plays a fairly important role in the global IP framework.

The organisation is currently in the process of selecting a Director-General for the next six years. The incumbent, Dr. Francis Gurry, has had a controversial tenure in several respects: In 2012, it became known that WIPO shipped computer equipment to countries that were under UN sanctions such as North Korea and Iran. And last year, allegations surfaced that WIPO’s senior management had signed secret contracts for external offices in China and Russia. No wrongdoings by the organisation have been identified so far but the allegations cast a long shadow over the General Assembly last September. In the US, a number of prominent Congressmen, including Silicon Valley representatives Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, sent a letter to the Obama Administration accusing Gurry of “erratic and secretive behavior and colossal lack of judgment” in connection with the WIPO’s assistance programs and asked the US to withdraw its support for Gurry.

Observers see these developments as a part of the reason why there is such a diverse field of candidates for this election. Unlike other UN institutions where there is often no real contest, the WIPO DG elections benefit from a healthy competition with candidates from four major regions of the world.

These are the candidates:

WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry (Australia, incumbent)

When Dr. Gurry became WIPO’s Director-General in 2008, he had already serviced the organisation for more than two decades. During this time, he held a number of positions, including Deputy and Assistant Director-General responsible for patents and managed the creation of the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre. Prior to WIPO, Dr. Gurry was an attorney and law professor in France and Australia.

WIPO Deputy Director-General Geoffrey Onyeama (Nigeria)

Before joining WIPO, Mr. Onyeama was a Nigerian attorney. During his almost three decades of service to WIPO he worked mostly in the development cooperation and the public outreach sections.

Ambassador Jüri Seilenthal (Estonia)

Estonia’s Ambassador to the UN institutions in Geneva has chaired WIPO and UNCTAD Commissions and also covers the ITU and UN human rights issues. Before coming to Geneva, Ambassador Seilenthal was the Chief of Staff of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Ambassador Alfredo Suescum (Panama)

Mr. Suescum is Panama’s Ambassador to WIPO and the WTO where he chaired the TRIPS agreement. In addition to his more than two decades of Government service, he also has private sector experience.

CCIA has been lucky to be granted meeting slots with all four WIPO DG candidates so that our members, and others from our sector, can hear about their plans for WIPO, and, more generally, to exchange views on international IP issues as they apply to the technology sector. The calls will take place before the WIPO Coordination Committee meeting on March 6/7, where a subset of 83 WIPO Member States will select one of the four to recommend to WIPO’s highest body, the Assemblies, for election.

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