Mary Kissel, a Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Member, asked a simple question in this video segment of Fox News Editor-at Large George Russell: Why is Australia re-nominating Francis Gurry to head WIPO? Frankly, this is an excellent question. One might also ask why the Obama Administration has failed to back an alternative candidate despite being implored to do so by Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle?
Indeed, as recently as November 21, 2013, a letter was sent to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the Obama Administration to support an alternative candidate to become Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in light of the growing number of scandals engulfing Gurry. See DNA Scandal, Computers to North Korea & Iran, and Congress Unhappy.
A source with knowledge close to the situation has also told me that “there will be other shoes to drop; the DNA episode is not the last.”
To the outside world Gurry is affable, knowledgeable and a perfect ambassador of the benefits of intellectual property. Internally, however, he hides things and fosters conflict so that he can rise to the moment and come to the rescue. Indeed, aside from the various scandals WIPO appears to be an extremely dysfunctional workplace, which can only hinder the mission.
These assertions almost seem bizarre on their face, but where there is smoke there is usually fire. The truth is that WIPO has experienced a series of scandals over the past several years and Gurry has always been at the center. For example, while the UN Sanctions committee found that the shipments of computers to North Korea and Iran did not violate Security Council Resolutions, it was pointed out to Gurry by senior advisors that the optics would be horrendous because the shipments would clearly violate U.S. law. In fact, people would go to jail in the U.S. for this type of shipment to North Korea and Iran. It was naive to the extreme for Gurry to take the position that Member States would not be at all disturbed.
As it turns out, the Gurry advisors who questioned the wisdom of sending computers to those rogue regimes were spot on accurate. Member States were angered and now WIPO finds itself with a political problem and enemies on both the House Foreign Relations Committee and on the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. It was extraordinarily naive to pick an unnecessary political fight with the U.S. given that the U.S. substantially funds WIPO as the largest filer of international patent applications and the fact that 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.
But the real story of these scandals is that not any one would likely be enough to bring Gurry down or bring the organization to its knees, but when you string them together they paint a picture that suggests that WIPO is extraordinarily dysfunctional. The scandals are getting in the way of the laudable and necessary function that WIPO plays in promoting intellectual property worldwide. The fact that no single scandal is enough to oust Gurry in and of itself is why he still remains at the head of the agency that he continues to drag down.
Aside from what is publicly known, what I have been told is that Gurry runs WIPO as his own fiefdom and is accountable to no one. He operates without seeking input from his senior management team, and in some instances he has acted without seeking input from WIPO Member States even when authorization is essential.
A case in point would be the turmoil caused by Gurry’s decision to open up a remote WIPO Office in Russia. Apparently, Gurry realized it would not be politically feasible to merely open one in Russia, so he also decided to open a PCT processing facility in China. With the Russians and Chinese on board it seemed as if this endeavor would succeed. The problem, however, is that Gurry did not seek authorization from the Coordination Committee. Earlier Gurry had promised Member States that he would get back to them with a strategy for opening remote WIPO Offices before anything happened. For that reason everyone was justifiably shocked when Gurry proceeded alone to sign agreements to open those Offices. Senior management within WIPO found out about the new Offices in China and Moscow through newspaper announcements touting the signing of those agreements.
It is the Russia/China debacle that reportedly caused Member States to fail to adopt a budget for the 2014/2015 biennium. This has required WIPO to schedule a special session of the General Assembly from December 10-12, 2013. This extraordinary step is required in order to complete unfinished work from the annual WIPO General Assembly in September. See WIPO Extraordinary General Assembly to Meet.
So why is Australia re-nominating Gurry? “The Government considers Dr. Gurry to be the best candidate to lead and manage WIPO for a further term,” said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. “He is well respected for his outstanding contribution to the development of the international intellectual property system.”
And herein lies the problem. The United States is reportedly engaged in sensitive talks with the Australia government over military bases. As a result the U.S. State Department is reluctant to upset the Australians by backing someone other than Gurry to head WIPO.
So we stand at the point where Australia is re-nominating Gurry and because Gurry is an incumbent, as well as a powerful, vindictive (as evidenced by the DNA scandal) and politically astute operator, few seem interested in taking Gurry on unless the United States says they will not support Gurry for a second term. This is particularly problematic given the silence of the Obama Administration and the fact that the deadline for submission of candidates to challenge Gurry is Friday, December 6, 2013. Without swift action and political pressure being brought to bear, WIPO may be destined for another 6 year term of turmoil.
Will the United States back a candidate other than Francis Gurry? Time will tell, but so far only two other candidates have emerged. One emerged late last week in the person of Alfredo Suescum, an ambassador from Panama who attended law school in the United States. The only other candidate is Geoffrey Oneayama, who was nominated by the Nigerian government in that country’s opening statement to the Assemblies on September 24, 2013. See Two Candidates for Director. Still, from what I have been told, despite consternation on Capitol Hill, the Obama Administration is not seriously involved with efforts to seek or support an alternative candidate with only days remaining until the deadline to submit candidates.