Geneva and Washington: two cities divided by 4,000 miles but
united by political failings. This week, WIPO member states
meeting in Switzerland failed to agree a budget (among other
things) at the General Assemblies while in the United States
the government shutdown is now into its fourth day, and is
inevitably having an impact on IP activities, including at the
Copyright Office and the ITC.
Against this backdrop, there is controversy over the
leadership of both WIPO and the USPTO.
As we reported last month, Francis Gurry intends
to stand for a second term as WIPO director-general. Since
then, one other candidate has emerged from Nigeria, so there will be a
contest. In the meantime, a group of US politicians has written to Secretary of State John Kerry
urging him to oppose Gurry’s reelection. Their objections relate to allegations that WIPO
supplied computer equipment to North Korea and Iran, breaching
Readers will form their own views about whether their
concerns have merits, and of course all of us understand that
Iran in particular is a highly sensitive issue in the United
States (despite a recent thawing in relations). But I think the
members of Congress need to be careful here. Unless they have a
strong alternative to propose, Gurry is likely to be their best
ally among potential candidates for the WIPO job. They might
regret dethroning him, if that is what they achieve.
Gurry is respected for his knowledge of IP and is well known
among experienced practitioners and IP groups. Challengers will
almost certainly bring different ideas about IP development.
When the time comes, member states will choose the candidate
that best represents their interests. Unless a surprise
contender emerges, I would be astonished if the US prefers
someone other than Gurry.
Vacancy in Alexandria
A harsh response to the members of Congress who wrote the
letter might be: get your own house in order first.
It’s now nearly a year since David Kappos
announced he would leave the USPTO, and there’s no
sign of a successor. In the meantime, Teresa Stanek Rea has
also resigned, meaning the top two jobs at the
Office need to be filled. From what we hear, IP circles in
Washington are buzzing with rumours about who has been
contacted/interviewed/offered the job/turned it down.
Part of the problem, it seems, is that the role as things
stand is not very attractive. As well as the usual downsides of
public service – the relatively low pay, the long
approval process and the possibility that your term of office
will be ended by the electorate – there are new
disincentives, namely that your role in policy making is being
curtailed by the activity of the White House and other
government agencies, many of the senior roles at the Office are
already filled, and there is continuing frustration over
The difficulties over the WIPO and USPTO heads are not of
course directly related to the political problems described
above. But at times like this the IP world needs strong
leadership; and that will not come if there continues to be
unwarranted political interference.