WIPO: Under Siege?

Walking around the marbled corridors of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) during its 43rd General Assembly, one cannot help but feel a palpable sense of an Organization under siege. Heightened security detail, ostensibly for the protection of the institution and the assembled delegates, was referred by one insider as justification for WIPO maintaining the current levels for patent filing fees.

IP-Watch, Sisule Musungu and the National Review have produced excellent accounts describing the imbroglio surrounding the apparent mystery surrounding the true age of the WIPO Director-General, Kamil Idris.

Yesterday the age controversy came to the fore at the General Assembly. Positions seemed quite entrenched with the African Group and many developing countries at odds with the Group B countries (rich nations) over allegations of an internal report (IAOD/INV/2006/2) by the WIPO audit committee which provided details of two conflicting birth dates supplied by Kamil Idris. The report intimated that if Mr. Idris had originally supplied the birth date of 1954 (which he changed it to last year), he would not have enjoyed his meteoric rise within the Organization.

The urbane Algerian Ambassador Idris Jazairy (Oxon., Harvard and ENA) speaking on behalf of the African Group issued an impassioned discourse insisting that the rule of law and due process be strictly adhered to when investigating the allegations against the Director General. Ambassador Jazairy invoked Hammurabi’s code noting that 32 centuries ago, Hammurabi declared that his code was a shield for the weak against the strong; similarly in this case, Ambassador Jazairy stated that poor nations cloaked themselves in the rule of law and due process to shield themselves from the will of the powerful. The African Group along with developing countries including Brazil, Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Countries), Kyrgystan and China reiterated the view that discussions regarding the internal audit report should focus on procedure rather than on substance.

Ambassador Warren Tichenor (United States) made a forceful intervention
castigating the leadership of the Organization.

Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you too for your faithful report on the results of the Friends of the Chair Group’s discussion. You promised to faithfully report the results and we thank you for having done so. Please forgive me but as I don’t have the talent of confusion, distortion and double speak so prevalent these days, I’ll speak very plainly and very clearly….

Let me simply say to all of the member states of WIPO, the Director General and the people who work at WIPO, there is evidence in the Internal Auditors report which is clear and incontrovertible that the Director General’s conduct constituted a violation of WIPO Staff Rules & Regulations; that these acts cannot be considered a mere administrative error; that without the use of an incorrect birth date the Director General’s career path would not have been the same; and this repeated series of errors in judgment rise to the level of violations of WIPO’s Staff Rules and Regulations.

While we’re asking questions, we ask a simple question: Does the Director General deny that the repeated series of errors in judgment have cast a serious pall on his leadership – both within and outside of the organization – and that these errors in judgment constitute a violation of WIPO Staff Rules & Regulations? Yes or No? We ask for a yes or no answer.

Yesterday, Portugal, on behalf of the European Communities and its Member States, declared that it had lost confidence in the leadership of WIPO.

Most of today’s General Assembly has been in informal mode as Member States endeavor to resolve the impasse with respect to dealing with allegations against the Director General. Much of the disagreement is not “whether” WIPO Member States will investigate these charges but rather on the questions of “when” and “how” these investigations will be carried out. The lack of a swift resolution to the leadership crisis at WIPO could vitiate the political capital and credibility gained by the passage of the Development Agenda, a dire outcome indeed.