Who Should Lead the Future of International IP: The Director General Election

Once every six years WIPO elects a new Director General. The elections will take place this year, March 6th 2014. The current Director General, Francis Gurry, during his term has worked to alleviate the tension on current patent and copyright systems that are caused by developments in digital technology. The future head of WIPO will be expected to advance the organization’s mandate to further international intellectual property systems that benefit member states in equal terms.

There are four candidates running for the position this year. They include current director general Francis Gurry (Australia), Deputy Director General Geoffry Onyeama (Nigeria), Ambassador Jüri Seilenthal (Estonia), and Ambassador Alfredo Suescum (Panama). The candidates appeared before WIPO member states to answer questions.

Candidates for Director General of WIPO: (From left to right) Alfredo Suescum, Jüri Seilenthal, Geoffry Onyeama, and Francis Gurry.
Candidates for Director General of WIPO: (From left to right) Alfredo Suescum (Photo: Intracen) , Jüri Seilenthal (Photo: ITU News) , Geoffry Onyeama (Photo: The Rainbow), and Francis Gurry (Photo: WIPO).

Gurry’s authority has come under fire recently by several US congressmen and other lawmakers for supplying North Korea and Iran with computers, violating UN sanctions that prohibited such activites. Nevertheless Gurry maintains no sanctions were violated and that the computers were sent as part of a program to enable developing countries to search through international patent databases. This project is meant to reduce counterfeits and support a strong international IP infrastructure. Gurry also angered several member states by agreeing to open a WIPO office in Moscow.

The drama surrounding current Director General Gurry’s office is heightened further in that he was the successor to former Director General Kamil Idris who was forced to step down due to misconduct. Instability and distrust in WIPO as an institution could not come at a worse time given that developments that could even the international IP playing field, especially in terms of genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and folklore (GRTKF). Among the biggest proponents of a new, fair, and effective GRTKF regime are the members of the African Union who have declared their formal support for the candidacy of Deputy Director General Geoffry Onyeama. Onyeama is also responsible for WIPO’s development sector, which is commissioned with advancing the needs of developing nations in order for them to benefit from innovation and the knowledge economy.

Candidate Alfredo Suescum is the current Chair of the WTO TRIPs Council and Ambassador to the WTO. He is a US educated lawyer who has held several other diplomatic posts including a UN ambassadorship on behalf of Panama. He is known to stand his ground on behalf of the needs of his constituents which was demonstrated in the Doha Round, after which the US apparently put pressure to remove him from his post.

Finally, Ambassador Jüri Seilenthal plans to run a campaign based on balancing the needs of developed and developing nations, special attention to small and medium enterprises and private investors, tight fiscal management and transparency, and consolidation of WIPO treaties in order to gain universal coverage and accession of WIPO treaties. He is also the former chair of the WIPO Coordination Committee, and of the Trade and Development Board of the UN Conference on Trade and Development and a human rights expert.

Along with their experience and qualifications, the results of ongoing meetings and campaign appearances will be taken into account while deciding who will be WIPO’s Director General for the 2014–2020 cycle. The deciding body, a rotating group of 83 member states called the Coordination Committee, will make its edecision based on the approved conventions. Their decision will then go to the General Assembly so that all member states can approve their decision, or not.

The Coordination Committee will meet to nominate a candidate on Marcy 6 & 7 2014.