An IP system for the 21st Century: Gurry speaks

Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization, was the guest speaker at tonight's Summer Event hosted by the British group of the Union of European Practitioners in Intellectual Property -- or Union, as this genial body prefers to be known. The venue was a lovely one, the home of the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, London -- where Sir Humphrey Davy invented the Davy Lamp, Michael Faraday invented the electric motor [but sadly, says Merpel, neither of them came up with any bright ideas for air conditioning]. The official title was "An IP system for the 21st Century". The real title was however "How to live with change in the IP ecosystem and come out the better for it".

Before considering the future, Francis began by describing the present. The massive backlogs in examining patent applications were not a sign of failure but a tribute to the success of the system in attracting such an extraordinarily high level of investment in knowledge creation; a bigger concern than dealing with patent informations was that of dealing with information itself: some 30% of global R&D spend comes from China, Japan and Korea -- and this is reflected in literature published in the languages of those nations. R&D is now massively international; 22% of peer-reviewed scientific work is co-authored by writers from different countries, and 15% of patent applications from OECD nations stem from inventions made outside those countries. We are also witnessing a change in the mode of innovation. No longer do companies try to satisfy all their innovation needs themselves. Open innovation and open source are means by which external innovation may be grafted on. However, the current system of IP still provides the framework for all this.

In the field of copyright there have also been momentous changes, said Francis. Digital technology and the internet have caused radical difficulties for those seeking to utilise traditional business models. New solutions are needed and these will have to emerge from dialogue between creative industries and consumers, not through litigation against teenage file-sharers. The big issue is how we are to finance creative works. Patronage and market-based solutions have both been tried, but fail.

WIPO's treaty-making capacity was not the ideal means of reaching a solution: even a fast-track treaty would take five years to pass, ten to bring into force. The World could not wait so long. Nor were multilateral or bilateral arrangements the ideal solution. But if no workable solution is identified, the private sector is apt to fill the gap, as Google Book has done so controversially.

What then can we do, asked Francis? WIPO has already developed non-threatening systemic improvements such as the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Madrid System and the Hague Agreement. More can be done to eliminate duplicated effort and waste, for example through patent highways and work-sharing between patent offices. Other steps include directing the focus of WIPO's work from titles to use (eg less on substantive one-size-fits-all IP law reform, more on the environment, food security, access to medicine, securitisation issues and climate change). There should also be more focus on the establishment of platforms where rights owners and users can identify and work towards their own solutions -- an example being the progress made by copyright owners and representatives of the visually impaired.

In closing, the Director General that members of the profession had much to look forward to, including plenty of work in an investment-rich future!

Union here and here
Unison here
Unicorn here
United here
An IP system for the 21st Century: Gurry speaks An IP system for the 21st Century: Gurry speaks Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, July 08, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. Why wasn't this event listed on the sidebar events list?

  2. Shalini: when I was first informed of this event, admission was restricted to Union members. I was invited as a guest.


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