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.