Francis Gurry (left) and Geoffrey Onyeama (right) are two of the four candidates for WIPO Director General.
We are now down to crunch time in the selection process for Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). During meetings held May 8 – 9, 2014, the General Assembly will decide who is appointed Director General for the next six-year term that will being October 1, 2014. But later this week we will have a clear indication about who that will likely be. The WIPO Coordination Committee will meet in Geneva on March 6 – 7, 2014, to nominate a candidate for appointment as the next Director General of WIPO. The four names up for consideration are: (1) Mr. Francis Gurry of Australia, who is the current Director General of WIPO; (2) Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama of Nigeria, who is currently Deputy Director General, Development Sector, at WIPO; (3) Ambassador Jüri Seilenthal of Estonia; and (4) Ambassador Alfredo Suescum Alfaro of Panama.
On the surface it seems nearly unthinkable that the current Director General, Francis Gurry, would not be given a second term at the helm at WIPO. If you look at measurables and statistics WIPO appears to being running on all cylinders and doing a fantastic job of growing and coordinating the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which is no doubt WIPO’s primary function as an international body.
Behind the scenes there are several scandals lurking that could easily work to give both the Coordination Committee and Member States pause. Gurry was at the center of a politically ill conceived deal that sent computers to North Korea and Iran and he has been implicated in a bizarre DNA collection scheme that objectively seems to have been covered up by WIPO. The DNA scandal and cover-up has come back into the news recently as the result of a complaint filed by Miranda Brown, a former Deputy Permanent Representative at the Australian Mission in Geneva, and most recently a Strategic Advisor to Gurry. See Will Scandal Cost Gurry Second Term?
On March 6 – 7, 2014, the WIPO Coordination Committee will meet in Geneva, Switzerland to nominate a candidate for appointment to post of Director General. The four names up for consideration are: (1) Mr. Francis Gurry of Australia, who is the current Director General of WIPO; (2) Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama of Nigeria, who is currently Deputy Director General, Development Sector, at WIPO; (3) Ambassador Jüri Seilenthal of Estonia; and (4) Ambassador Alfredo Suescum Alfaro of Panama.
Ultimately, in meetings held May 8 – 9, 2014, the General Assembly will decide who is appointed Director General for the next six-year term that will being October 1, 2014. Having said that, the importance of the nominating decision by the Coordination Committee cannot be understated. In the unlikely event that the candidate nominated by the Coordination Committee were not to be appointed the Coordination Committee would nominate another candidate, and the process would repeat until the General Assembly finally appoints a nominated candidate.
Despite some turmoil surrounding WIPO sending computers to North Korea and Iran, until several months ago no one really believed the appointment of the next WIPO Director General would be anything other than a foregone conclusion. By all outward appearances Francis Gurry is a personable and knowledgeable diplomat that has lead WIPO very well. Indeed, appointment for a second term seemed almost inevitable. But then a bizarre DNA scandal erupted and ensnared Gurry, and this scandal seemed to be of a wholly different magnitude than the computer deal that had previously raised the ire of the U.S. Congress. Unknown to WIPO employees Gurry apparently ordered the collection of DNA samples to attempt to identify who had sent letters complaining of Gurry financial improprieties and sexual harassment.
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.”
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?
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.
UPDATED 2: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 at 9:20pm Eastern.
Francis Gurry, the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), finds himself in a precarious position this week as news has surfaced about a bizarre and presumably illegal acquisition of DNA samples from WIPO employees. Gurry has already been under pressure from Member States because he has been unable to pass a budget for WIPO, which many attribute to being uncomfortable with the cozy relationship seen between Gurry and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Gurry signed a deal to set up a WIPO office in Moscow, which reportedly has rubbed at least some Member States the wrong way.
While Member States may be unhappy about Gurry’s ties to Putin, the newly uncovered DNA scandal raises serious questions and could potentially lead to Gurry’s undoing. Already calls are being made for him to be removed from his post.
In the meantime, there is important business to be done by WIPO.
Kicking off the 51st meeting of Member States, Gurry took the opportunity to both look back and look forward with his address to the WIPO Assemblies. Gurry told the audience that “[t]he twelve months since the last Assemblies have seen many positive results for the Organization.” He would go on to point out that global IP systems continue to remain strong, saying: “the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the Madrid System for the international registration of marks and the Hague System for the international registration of designs, continued to experience growth levels that out-perform the world economy.” Gurry also discussed the continued progress being made relative to technical systems that connect the IP Offices of Member States.
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry (Photo: WIPO/E.Berrod)
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.
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