By William New, Click here to read this at Intellectual Property Watch
World Intellectual Property Organization Director General
Francis Gurry today said the UN agency has cut off its programme of
providing computer equipment to countries in order to eliminate doubts
in “certain countries” about the programme as it relates to Iran and
North Korea, and said he is moving swiftly to establish an independent
review. He also said that he would authorise any WIPO official with
competence for the programme to testify about it if asked, and denied
any retaliation against whistleblowers.
At issue is a longstanding technical assistance programme of
providing hardware to about 80 countries with the aim of helping them to
access and participate in the international intellectual property
WIPO maintains that it did not do anything wrong. Its activities will
be reviewed by the UN sanctions committees for Iran and North Korea,
sources said. Both countries are members of WIPO.
Yesterday, WIPO announced it would discontinue sending computers to all countries and would conduct a review (IPW, WIPO, 19 July 2012).
“There’s a relatively small number of countries who benefit from
hardware as opposed to our complete software package,” Gurry said. “And
since certain member states perceive that there is some ambiguity in the
use of standard IT equipment – printers, cartridges, PCs and servers –
we think the only complete answer we can give because of their
perception of ambiguity is to say, we no longer do that.”
“We can argue for hours and hours and hours about the legal
interpretation, that it’s only a few PCs, and so on,” he said. “But if
there’s lingering doubt, let’s eliminate it.”
Gurry is working to identify someone to carry out a review of WIPO
technical assistance to UN-sanctioned countries. “We’re considering who
is best placed to do this,” he said, “as far as I’m concerned as soon as
possible.” Timing will depend on the person or agency that does the
review, who he will appoint, he said.
“We are taking time to find an appropriately neutral and independent, an unassailable person,” he said.
The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs sent a
strongly worded letter to Gurry this week expressing “grave concern”
about WIPO’s decision to ship the computers, but also countering
assertions by WIPO that it has not engaged in wrongdoing. The letter,
signed by the Republican and Democratic committee leaders, accused Gurry
of “ongoing attempts to keep these technology transfers a secret within
The 16 July letter from the House committee available here
[pdf], also said: “Even more troubling are allegations that your
primary focus on this issue has not been full disclosure of all relevant
information on these projects in Iran and North Korea, but rather
discovering and punishing whistleblowers who initially alerted outside
bodies about these transactions.”
Gurry flatly denied any retaliation against whistleblowers. “I don’t
know of any action that has been taken against any whistleblower related
to DPRK and Iran. None.” North Korea is the Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea.
According to a March letter to the House committee posted here,
the person who called attention to the issue was WIPO Staff Council
President Moncef Kateb, who wrote on behalf of the Council to the chair
of the UN Joint Inspection Unit.
Gurry said that despite the 16 July date of the House letter, he just
received it after midnight last night, and that he “has had absolutely
no contact with them.” He did say he feels he has a political obligation
to answer them.
The House letter seemed to imply they had contact with him. “With
regard to your claim to confidentiality in documents provided to us, the
information they contain is exactly what WIPO, as a governmental
agency, should be providing to all its stakeholders,” it said.
The House committee is planning to hold a hearing on the issue soon,
according to sources. Gurry said that he would allow an appropriate WIPO
staffperson to testify if asked. A “properly competent person who was
related to these activities in an official and authorised manner, who I
am confident knows about the activities in question, will be
authorised,” he said.
He pointed to the WIPO organisational chart published on the website
that specifies areas of responsibility for every person. Responsibility
for this area, after Gurry himself, might also include a deputy director
general, assistant director general or the legal counsel.
Given the highly politicised environment in the United States just
months before the presidential election, questions may be asked about
why a committee controlled by the opposition party to President Obama is
jumping on this issue so vigorously. They may also ask whether within
WIPO there is a mounting effort to tarnish the image of the director who
will face re-election in two years.
But for now it is the congressional committee that is asking the
questions. “On the face of it,” the letter said, “the documentary
record, coupled with your public statements, shows a shocking and
intolerable lack of judgment, together with an inclination to disregard
the legitimate concerns of Member States and to retaliate against your
staff who are simply trying to tell the truth.”
By the Numbers
The House committee has suggested that the US suspend its funding for
WIPO. But while members of Congress may be accustomed to this working
in environments, where, based the size of its economy, the US can throw
its financial weight around, at WIPO, the United States only provides a
very small portion of the budget. Some 93 percent of WIPO’s budget comes
from fees for its services (including many US lawyers and businesses).
The US government is one of five top government contributors to WIPO
(along with France, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom), giving about
US$ 1.1 million per year.
Click here to read this at Intellectual Property Watch