New UN intellectual property chief cites challenges of booming patents

22 September 2008

The incoming head of the United Nations agency entrusted with protecting intellectual property rights today highlighted the urgency of responding to the growing global demand for patent services and the need to examine the future of copyright in a rapidly evolving business and technological environment.

Francis Gurry of Australia, appointed by acclamation by the General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as its new Director General, cited the volume of work facing many patent offices due to a sustained trend to harness the economic value of innovation through the acquisition of property rights.

“The functional consequence of this trend is that the system is becoming a victim of its own success” with patent offices “choking on demand and struggling to perform in a manner that is timely enough to be responsive to the needs of the economy,” he told the Assembly in Geneva.

The problem is of “such a critical and urgent nature that a solution will be found,” he added, stressing his own preference for a multilateral solution based on the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), an agreement administered by WIPO which provides a simplified method for patent filing in multiple countries.

Mr. Gurry said the challenges posed with regard to copyright by ever evolving technology were even more fundamental.

“The twentieth century model of returning value to creators, performers and their business associates, which relied on the distribution of physical packages containing the works, is under the most radical of threats from the convergence of expression in digital technology and the distributional power of the Internet,” he declared.

He assured delegates that here too “solutions will be found,” stating his belief that “WIPO remains the right forum to conduct the discussion.”

He also broached the need for reflection on the appropriate role of WIPO in addressing the escalating problems of trade in counterfeit and pirated goods, which, according to one estimate, exceeds $200 billion.

Mr. Gurry, who has held various posts since joining WIPO in 1985 as a consultant, most recently as the agency’s Deputy Director General, will formally take up his new position on 1 October in succession to Kamil Idris of Sudan.

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