The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has been under fire in some political corners over the last few months as it has come to light that they sent computer to countries that are on the United Nations sanction list; namely North Korea and Iran.
The news first came to light during the Spring of 2012 when FOX News recently broke a news story relating to a certain rogue branch of the UN undertaking some kind of clandestine scheme to ship computers and other technologies to the government of North Korea in violation of several UN Resolutions, including UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. When I heard the story initially my thought was — so what else is new? The United Nations seems to coddle dictators, tyrants and oppressive (and genocidal) regimes of various types. It was, however, a shock to learn that WIPO was at the center of the controversy. For more see WIPO Embroiled in North Korea Computer Deal.
The first wave of the “WIPO computer scandal” gave way to another revelation. WIPO not only sent computers to North Korea, but they also sent computer to Iran. The Iran computer fiasco was front in center in a recent hearing where Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) was grilling Deputy USPTO Director Teresa Rea. Lofgren called this latest WIPO transgression relative to sending computer to Iran “an outrage.” 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…” While I don’t often agree with Lofgren on many issues, she is absolutely dead on accurate. How could WIPO be involved? For more see Congress Unhappy with WIPO over Iran.
WIPO had to do something to fix this situation. WIPO is the global apostle of intellectual property, its virtues, what it can do to grow an economy and empower individuals and small businesses to great economic freedom and achievement. Those who are similar with WIPO know that they do some of the hardest work, which is some of their best work, in developing and third world countries. It seems to fit the WIPO modus operandi to want to help countries like North Korea and Iran. Not because they are terrorist nations but rather because they need economic assistance and development for the betterment of their respective societies and populations. The wrinkle here, of course, is that they are terrorist nations that have rogue regimes. They are outcasts; pariah in the international community. WIPO should not have reached out to these countries even though they could do much good for the people of those countries. WIPO should focus its efforts on the many countries and peoples that need help that are respectful members of the international community.
Earlier today, WIPO issued a press release, allegedly as the result of “recent media attention and requests for information” relating to what WIPO is and does, and exactly what happened regarding the computer deals that seem to quite clearly violate UN sanctions.
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry provided the following information and clarifications concerning the actions that have been undertaken, or are being undertaken, by WIPO in relation to the provision of technical assistance to countries that are the subject of United Nations (UN) sanctions. The press release issued by WIPO explains:
The actions undertaken include:
- Following the expression of initial concerns over the provision of standard IT equipment to patent and trademark offices for the processing of intellectual property (IP) applications, new internal procedures were established and made operational on May 1, 2012. Under these procedures, all managers must refer any activity proposed in a country subject to UN sanctions to WIPO’s Legal Counsel for guidance and clearance. The Legal Counsel will, wherever necessary, consult the appropriate UN Sanctions Committee. Additionally, any work plan for a country subject to UN sanctions will be submitted at the commencement of each calendar year for guidance by the appropriate Sanctions Committee.
- The provision of standard IT equipment to the IP offices of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Islamic Republic of Iran that occurred in the preceding years, within the context of the Organization’s business modernization program for IP Offices in developing countries, is being referred to the relevant UN Sanctions Committees for their information and guidance.
- The initial steps are being undertaken for a full external and independent review of the technical assistance provided to countries subject to UN sanctions.
- A new internal instruction has been issued ending any provision of IT hardware in any of WIPO’s technical assistance programs.
The press release explains that WIPO “is treating concerns relating to the Organization’s technical assistance programs to countries that are the subject of UN sanctions with the utmost seriousness.” That is a good first step. Gurry also reiterated his “commitment to transparency” and “readiness of the Secretariat to continue to provide any information requested by any of the member states of the Organization.”
At the end of the press release there was also a statement that said the following:
While the legal advice received with respect to the technical assistance provided to DPRK and Iran was that the technical assistance was not in breach of UN Sanctions, it is hoped that the measures outlined above will provide assurance that the Organization is treating this matter with the seriousness that it warrants.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily seem to be completely supported by the e-mail chain and memos uncovered by FOX News, or at least supported enough to satisfy the casual non-attorney observer. There is no doubt that there was at least some opinion that the computer deals were not in breach of UN Sanctions, but there is also written documentation that there were those within WIPO who were extremely uneasy. They were uneasy specifically about moving forward with the deal because it may be a violation of UN sanctions, or at the very least appear to be in violation of UN sanctions. The concern was about the perception and the likely negative criticism from Member States if and when the deal became known. Some deemed the potential benefits insignificant compared with the enormous risk. Those counseling caution turned out to be correct.
It seems to me that the deal does violate UN sanctions. Even if it doesn’t it was really stupid. The lawyer in me understands why WIPO is saying that they don’t believe it violated UN sanctions, but the human in me just wishes they could step up and acknowledge that they screwed up, there were good but severely misguided intentions and promise that it will never happen again. But that would only happen in a perfect world, and we don’t live in a perfect world. So the political observer in me realizes this saga will unfold in peculiar ways that will allow the agency to continue with its important mission, while at the same time allowing those who were offended to be mollified.
Sadly, saying “Im’ sorry” doesn’t seem to be something that can happen any more in the 24/7, sound-bite driven news cycle we live in. Particularly not during an election year where it is so easy to beat up on the UN for just about anything. I just wish focus would be on those things that the UN does that demands scorn, like the inability to agree on sanctions against a government that is slaughtering its innocent civilians and their repeated poor choices relative to who gets onto what committee.