Given the recent news of FIFA corruption many in the United States are for the first time getting a real glimpse of just how much of the international community really works. With 14 officials charged with bribery and corruption the members of FIFA still reelected FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who brazenly said that he did nothing wrong and couldn’t be held accountable for any alleged misdeeds of his top lieutenants. To call this entire episode bizarre doesn’t begin to scratch the surface, but this is apparently the way things are done in the international community. What we may call bribery in the United States is viewed simply as the way business is done elsewhere around the world. Ridiculous I know, but no more ridiculous than holding the 2022 World Cup in the dessert where temperatures can reach 120 degrees, which even Blatter acknowledges is too hot for a soccer tournament.
The intellectual property community has become familiar with scandals over the last decade as well, although nothing that rivals the audacity of the reported FIFA scandal to be sure. A little more than a year ago, despite numerous Gurry scandals, without any objection and by consensus, the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) appointed Francis Gurry to a second six-year term of office as Director General of the Organization. Gurry himself originally came to power after 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.
But will Gurry remain at the helm of WIPO for his full six-year term?
Several weeks ago news broke that Päivi Kairamo, Chair of WIPO’s General Assemblies, which is the policy-making body that represents the 188 nations that are WIPO members, requested that the U.N.’s internal watchdog, the Organization of Internal Oversight Service (OIOS), initiate an investigation of Francis Gurry. According to FOX News, which has been the news agency with the best, most detailed information throughout the Gurry scandal sagas, the United Nations has “been asked to look into longstanding charges that Francis Gurry, director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, ordered break-ins of the offices of his own staffers in 2008 to seek DNA evidence that they wrote anonymous letters against him.”
I have followed the reports and accusations leveled against Gurry, finding myself threatened with both civil and criminal prosecution in Switzerland by a WIPO attorney I can only presume was contacting me at the behest of Gurry himself. What exactly was the alleged crime I committed without ever stepping foot in Switzerland? It seems that at least some at WIPO believe that posting a copy of a public record document that itself alleged serious misconduct by the Director General was criminal. One of many ironies was that the e-mail I received telling me I had broken criminal laws in Switzerland also claimed that everything I had published was old news.
Whether Gurry has engaged in any of the serious misconduct that has been alleged, the threat of criminal and civil prosecution seems to me to have been particularly ill-advised. I was threatened with prosecution the day after I had major surgery, and literally right after my surgeon told me not to make any legal decisions for at least two weeks due to the pain medication I was taking. I decided to simply remove the materials and deal with things later. But once the report of misconduct was removed due to this ill-advised threat, the imagination runs wild. It also makes Gurry look like he has something to hide.
What could be so bad in those allegations that Gurry/WIPO had to demand that they be removed immediately or criminal charges would be pursued? Such an enormous over reaction to the publication of a public record document does, however, fit within the narrative of the overall allegations, at least in my opinion.
To the outside world Gurry is affable, knowledgeable and a perfect ambassador of the benefits of intellectual property. Based on what I have been told by sources familiar with the internal workings of WIPO, Gurry seems to have a separate and distinct personality when dealing with WIPO officials and employees. Internally, Gurry reportedly hides things and fosters conflict so that he can rise to the moment and come to the rescue. I have been told 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.
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 has been enough to oust Gurry in and of itself is why he still remains at the head of WIPO. Still, this latest request, which appears to be an enormous repudiation of Gurry by WIPO Member States could ultimately bring down the Teflon Director.