Yesterday marked the start of the 51st meeting of the Assemblies of Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The meetings taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, occur as a power struggle may be brewing behind the scenes. Director General Francis Gurry, a central figure in the WIPO decision to send computers to North Korea, has indicated that he would like another six-year term as WIPO Director General. At least some in the United States are going to oppose Gurry and are urging the Obama Administration to identify another candidate. Could current Deputy Director Jim Pooley be that other candidate that certain Members of the House of Representatives hopes will emerge? Time will tell, but things will surely get interesting. For more see WIPO Member States Meet Amid Internal Unrest.
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.
According to Gurry, however, the highlight of the year was the treaty to assist those with visual disabilities. He said: “The highlight of the year, however, was the successful conclusion of a new multilateral treaty, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.”
Gurry also briefly mentioned two new items WIPO will focus on in the upcoming year: (1) a proposed treaty to simplify procedures for obtaining protection for designs; and (2) providing effective protection for traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and intellectual property in relation to genetic resources.
Looking forward to an intermediate and longer-term horizon, Gurry explained that Member States should seize the moment to work toward establishing a legal global digital marketplace to replace. He explained that fears about such a global marketplace should not bog down the effort because there is already a global digital marketplace in effect, but that the one currently in existence is one that is an illegal marketplace that does not respect the rights of creators. Gurry explained:
The past 20 years has witnessed the steady migration of creative works from analogue formats and physical distribution to digital technology and distribution over the Internet. This has been a classic process of creative destruction. It is a normal part of any such process that value shifts. But what has been worrying in the transition from analogue to digital is the seemingly avoidable and inappropriate loss of value to creators, performers and the creative sector. A multiplicity of studies have been undertaken to measure this phenomenon and discussion, if not arguments, abound about methodology and magnitude. What is clear, however, is that the impact of illegal downloading is significant and negative. While the value of digital sales has been rising, they have not been rising at the same rate as analogue sales have been falling and value is being lost.
This loss is of enormous concern to governments and the creative industries worldwide. The solution is elusive. Nevertheless, there is increasing recognition that a large part of that solution is the creation of a seamless global digital marketplace. By dint of technology, we already have a seamless global digital marketplace, but it is an illegal one. The task is to establish a legal seamless global digital marketplace. It should be as easy to get content legally as it is to get it illegally.
The creation of such a marketplace is an extremely delicate and complex process, not the least because most of the building blocks have to be put in place by the enterprise sector and not the public sector. There is, however, reason for optimism, compared to ten years ago, that this is happening, even if slowly.
To move forward on this front WIPO has two projects, both of which related to data management. The first will seek to develop a new voluntary quality assurance standards for collective management organizations that hold data on creative works. The second project seeks to enhance IT systems for management of data by collective management organizations.
Other highlights mentioned in the full Report of the Director General include:
- The past 12 months have seen a continued expansion in the membership of the Madrid System, with Mexico, India, Rwanda and Tunisia all joining. Membership now stands at 92.
- WIPO Green, a virtual marketplace that links providers and seekers of environmentally sustainable technologies, is due to be launched in November 2013.
- The PATENTSCOPE database now allows users to search more than 32 million patent documents world- wide, including 2.2 million international patent applications published under the PCT. This enormous growth, from 14 million documents last year and 8 million in the year before that, is largely due to the inclusion of both the US national patent collection and the Chinese national collection this year.
- The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is currently processing applications for up to 1,400 new gTLDs (the characters to the right of the dot, as in .com). It is uncertain what impact this expansion may have on trademarks, whether it will increase the incidence of cybersquatting, how trademark owners will monitor the infringement of their marks, whether it will diminish the branding value of gTLDs, and so forth.
- In the area of domain names, trademark holders filed in 2012 a record 2,884 cybersquatting cases, covering 5,084 Internet domain names, with the WIPO Center under procedures based on the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). This represented an increase of 4.5% over 2011. The case load continues at a steady, albeit slightly reduced, rate in 2013.