The deadline for nominating candidates for the position of Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization is fast approaching. The last day to nominate a candidate is Friday, December 6, 2013. Currently there are only three candidates nominated, they are: (1) Francis Gurry, the current Director General of WIPO; (2) Geoffrey Onyeama, who grew up in England, was educated at Oxford and is the current Deputy Director General of WIPO for the Development Sector; and (3) Ambassador Alfredo Suescum, a U.S. educated lawyer who has served as Ambassador to the United Nations on behalf of Panama, as well as holding numerous other diplomatic posts. Suescum is currently Chairman of the TRIPS Council in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In what should otherwise be a relatively benign news story, the election of the next Director General of WIPO is taking on a life almost of its own. Over the last several administrations WIPO has been plagued with scandals. For example, Kamil Idris, Director General of WIPO from from 1997 to 2008, was forced to step down a year early from the position due to allegations of misconduct.
When Idris was under attack, then U.S. Ambassador Warren Tichenor, was quoted in the New York Times as follows: “The member states and the employees of WIPO deserve to have an organization that is led with the highest professional and ethical standards…” In a 2008 interview published in Managing IP, Roland Grossenbacher, then chairman of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organization, explained: “WIPO is in a very, very difficult situation right now and needs someone willing and capable over the next years, to handle the operational business, not by rhetoric but by action. That includes effective technical cooperation with developing countries. Sound operational management has been lost under the leadership of Kamil Idris but it has to be restored.”
Francis Gurry was the man who emerged to lead WIPO in the wake of the Idris mismanagement allegations. But Gurry now finds himself at the center of a number of scandals. Surprisingly, rather than dig into the substance of the allegations against Gurry many are rushing to his defense and crying rather loudly that Gurry is a good man with integrity who couldn’t have done what he is alleged to have done. But the growing facts and news reports suggest otherwise, or at the very least suggest that there is substantial reason to want some difficult questions answered.
The narrative below the surface seems to be that everyone is afraid of taking steps backward to an era marked by embarrassing chaos during the Idris Administration. There seems to be an attitude that Gurry ought to be re-elected because he is liked and although the scandals raise an eyebrow or two, they really can’t be true. The unspoken subtext seems to be this: the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. But does it truly need to be that way forward?
Indeed, there is a confluence of events that are making it unlikely that we will see more than three candidates nominated, which then potentially lends increased legitimacy to those saying that Gurry is the best candidate, although the other candidates are quite distinguished despite what you may have heard to the contrary. But this is not like an American election for President where many run and an embattled incumbent will face challengers from both sides of the aisle. Rather, this is the world of international politics where candidates need to be nominated by Member States. The further reality is that although the United States rarely nominates its own citizens to head UN agencies, without the backing of the United States, or at least a signal that the U.S. will not back Gurry, few are willing to seek a nomination.
Whether it is true or not, one of the scandals engulfing Gurry at the moment deals with the allegedly unlawful acquisition of DNA from employees without their knowledge. See DNA Scandal. This story, which has been widely reported now, suggests that the reason for this DNA collection was to identify whistleblowers. If true it is a story about Gurry aggressively seeking retribution. Whether true or not, at some point in time perception becomes reality, and the perception of many is that Gurry is vindictive. This coupled with the uncharacteristic silence of the United States is the reason many are standing on the sidelines awaiting a signal one way or another.
The silence of the Obama Administration has defined this matter so far. This silence has allowed a variety of rumors and speculation to run rampant. One rumor that seems to be gaining steam is that this whole episode is simply a ploy by the United States to have one of its own assume control of WIPO. Who is being rumored to be that clandestine candidate? Jim Pooley, who is Deputy Director General of WIPO for the Innovation and Technology Sector.
Indeed, I have heard more than one report suggesting that Pooley may be a late entrant as a candidate that the United States could and would support. My sources tell me that this speculation is simply erroneous. Not satisfied with second-hand reports, I reached out to Pooley for comment and he explained to me that he is not a candidate, he will not be nominated in any last minute shuffle and he expects to serve out his term as Deputy, which ends next Fall. Of course, the conspiracy theorists who believe there is a smear campaign against Gurry won’t be convinced of this until Pooley is not nominated. That reality that Pooley will not be a candidate will come soon enough. Hopefully that will allow the discussions to get past the theory that the U.S. is conspiring to bring down Gurry. Although I realize how silly that sounds. As one conspiracy door closes another one, or more, always seem to open.
Another odd claim I’ve heard is that the Congressional campaign against Gurry is being forwarded by radical, crazy Republicans. To anyone who cares about the facts this assertion is easily debunked as a complete fabrication. Members of Congress opposing Gurry are being spearheaded by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who is now and always has been a Democrat. She has been joined by a distinguished group of other Democrats and Republicans who share her concerns. They have sent two letters to Secretary of State Kerry. The last letter, sent November 21, 2013, was signed by (in addition to Congresswoman Lofgren, 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 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).
Interestingly, there was no response from the Obama Administration to the November 21st letter from the aforementioned Members of Congress. There was, however, a response from the Australian Ambassador to the United States. This provoked another letter from Congresswoman Lofgren, dated December 2, 2013, sent to the Australian Ambassador Kim Beazley, which included a series of highly specific questions aimed at shedding light on the veracity of the allegations against Gurry. As yet there has been no response to this letter.
So if this is a conspiracy to bring down Gurry it is one that includes a bipartisan group of highly experienced and very well respected Members of Congress. Having become a political watcher of sorts, it seems almost laughable to believe there is a conspiracy at play. The United States Congress cannot agree on anything any more, so when long serving, distinguished Members from both sides of the aisle uniformly agree and seek action and answers from the Obama Administration I take notice. Bipartisanship seems to so rarely happen any more, so when Members of Congress set aside party politics and unite there has to be at least some legitimate reason for careful scrutiny.
But it is not just a well respected group of bipartisan Members of Congress that are raising questions. On December 3, 2013, the Wall Street Journal published an op-Ed penned by Mary Kissel, who is a Member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board and viewed as an expert on Australian affairs. In this op-Ed Kissel lamented the fact that Australia has chosen to renominate Gurry, concluding: “The very concern about Mr. Gurry’s candidacy is that he operates without much transparency and is often at odds with American goals… What a shame that Australia is supporting this career bureaucrat who could use some adult supervision.”
With all the independent reports, leaked documents, questions from Congress and misgivings of the Wall Street Journal, it seems nearly ridiculous to believe there is a witch hunt afoot. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Gurry is guilty of anything, even bad judgment. But back when Idris was under attack the U.S. took a position that WIPO could and should do better than a scandal ridden Administration. I think that is a reasonable position to take, and given the allegations it is reasonable to make every inquiry, expect responses and consider whether the mission of WIPO is being so compromised under the present cloud of scandal that new leadership is warranted.
A substantive response to Congresswoman Lofgren’s letter could go a long way to explaining the allegations from Gurry’s perspective, but as time is running down I can’t say that I expect a response prior to the deadline for nominations expiring. That in and of itself causes me to raise an eyebrow. As an attorney I get it, but if there is nothing to hide what is wrong with giving a distinguished Member of the United States Congress a substantive answer to legitimate questions?