WIPO head Gurry: BDS should not have impact on intellectual property rights

WIPO is the global umbrella forum for a range of international groups focused on intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation.

March 22, 2016 03:39
Tal Band, Ayelet Shaked, Francis Gurry

Tal Band, Ayelet Shaked, Francis Gurry . (photo credit: Courtesy)

Asked about the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaign impact on relations between the World Intellectual Property Organization and Israel, the organization’s head, Francis Gurry told the Jerusalem Post on Monday that “it has not arisen and I hope it won’t arise.”

Gurry spoke to the Post on the sidelines of the second annual AIPPI (The International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property)-Israel conference in Tel Aviv.

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AIPPI-Israel is an affiliate of one of many intellectual property cooperation initiatives connected to WIPO.

Established by a 1967 treaty and with 188 member states, WIPO is the global umbrella forum for a range of international groups focused on intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation.

Pressed about what he would do if the issue did arise, Gurry, who did not profess significant familiarity with the issue, said, “it would be a member state issue.”

In other words, he “is a chief executive” channeling operations in the direction that WIPO’s member states wish, not the one who determines what the organization’s member states should think.

Earlier at the conference, AIPPI-Israel President and lawyer Tal Band had flagged some problematic trends about Israel’s relative recent hi-tech growth and commitment to innovation especially in education.

The Post asked Gurry to address what these trends mean when compared with all of the recent progress by Israel in its relations with the OECD and gaining recognition by the US in protecting intellectual property when Israel was removed from a watch list (for poor protection from infringement) in 2014.

Gurry said that, “indices are merely guides, not necessarily reality. They are endeavors to reflect reality, but any index has a number of biases. The change in the global innovation index was largely due to a change in the methodology of the index, not a difference in underlying performance.”

“I would say what you have in Israel is the number one ingredient and requirement for success: an ecosystem for innovation, the highest level of commit to innovation as a central platform for the economy,” he said.

He continued that “the essential ingredient of [Israeli] human resources is unbeatable, with the support finding expression in the high level of commit in facilitating a framework for innovation and with access to capital markets – Israel’s venture capital market is bigger than Europe’s.”

In terms of challenges that Israel is facing in balancing competing priorities in its intellectual property system and innovation, Gurry said that Israel faces similar problems to other small countries with small populations.

He explained that since Israel’s market of local customers is small, that significant portions of its innovative enterprises move overseas.

While in Israel this is viewed negatively as “the brain drain” effect, Gurry said that if Israel follows the Switzerland model of exporting innovation, but in a way that maintains ties between Israel and its expatriates and even increases international business with Israel, then it could be turned into a positive.

Moving on to recent advancements in the WIPO and Israel relationship, he called Israel’s acceding to the Marrakesh Treaty, which took place Monday morning just before the conference, a “wonderful development, it brings us to 16 of the 20 countries it needs to come into force.

The Marrakesh Treaty, adopted in 2013 but which needs 20 countries to ratify it to formally take effect, focuses on copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation and cross-border distribution of books and other copyrighted works in a fashion accessible to the blind.

Gurry described the outcome as allowing blind Israelis to receive and read blind-accessible books from other countries in a consortium around the world. He said he hoped it would come into force soon, and predicted “easily by the end of the year.”

Honing in on some cross-overs between intellectual property and security issues, the Post asked Gurry about recent reports regarding Israel and the US teaming up in trying to develop new technologies to detect and combat Hamas attack tunnels from Gaza – and to protect the countries’ rights to the technologies.

Gurry was familiar with the general issue and stated, “technology is essentially a neutral tool. Its status as a neutral tool is changed by the use - you can use a hammer to put a nail in the wall or to hit someone on the head. Every technology has dual-use possibilities.”

He added, “scientists develop technologies to provide solutions to problems and policymakers ensure that ‘Dr. Strangelove’ does not take over.”

Another security issue has involved allegations of wrongdoing by Gurry regarding his authorization of an American-made Hewlett Packard server worth around $7,000, a HP master printer and other information technology equipment, to North Korea to expand WIPO offices there. Gurry has denied any wrongdoing.

While the dispute has multiple levels, one policy dispute is that Gurry says the transfer did not violate UN Security Council sanctions and that US sanctions did not bind WIPO on the specific issue.

Gurry told the Post “the foundation of any civilized society is the rule of law. We need to apply the rule of law,” based on who has the “competencies to make laws.”

“In this particular instance, there were certain sanctions developed by the international community regarding North Korea, and the competent treaty organ for evaluating whether sanctions applied, the UN Security Council, ruled definitely, that nothing WIPO had done offended the sanctions,” he said.

Pressed on whether he had moral qualms about transferring the technology to a rogue regime like North Korea even if the transfers might not have violated sanctions, he responded, “if the international community would like to take action against North Korea, please do so legally, please give us as just executives, give us direction and we’ll comply with it.”

On a lighter note, Gurry discussed the dilemmas of Israelis who want access to streaming movies, but have faced a range of obstacles from Netflix and other providers regarding access.

Having previously expressed support for a “seamless digital marketplace” worldwide which is less focused on geographic distinctions, Gurry said that though “that is where we will end up,” the “journey to be taken” could take time to move “from analogue world to a digital world.”

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