Francis Gurry on the challenges for multilateralism in the field of intellectual property


As WIPO’s 189 member states prepare to gather in Geneva for their annual meeting of Assemblies, Director General Francis Gurry sat down with WIPO Magazine to share his views on the challenges for multilateralism in the field of intellectual property.


Why is multilateralism important in the field of intellectual property?

Multilateralism is the greatest source of legitimacy and inclusiveness for making rules. Through multilateral negotiation the international community aspires to provide a system which is fair to all participating countries, including smaller states.

In the field of intellectual property (IP), multilateralism is especially important because of the mobility and global application of innovation, ideas and creative works, especially in the digital age. If IP is to fulfill its mission to provide a proper economic incentive through protection for creators and inventors, then similar rules will need to apply across the globe where possible.

What are the key challenges for multilateralism in this area?

The biggest challenge is the growing contrast between the extremely rapid speed of technological change and of the business responses to that change, on the one hand, and the relatively slow speed of conventional intergovernmental processes for the development of international cooperation, on the other hand. Such processes are inclusive and require that all states are comfortable with the change that occurs, which can take time. This poses a real and enduring challenge for multilateralism in dealing with IP, which by definition is concerned with the new – innovation and new creative works.

These contrasting speeds explain in large part why over the last 20 years we have seen more international – but non-multilateral – cooperation at the bilateral, plurilateral and regional levels. It is easier to make rules and get agreement among a smaller number of states than it is to do so with the whole world. This shift in the international landscape is a major challenge for multilateralism.

What are the implications of these challenges for IP and how is WIPO responding to them?

In this new and more complex landscape, everyone in the international community needs to think very carefully about the role of multilateralism and the value it can add. And in the area of IP we need to carefully consider what needs to be done and what can be achieved multilaterally. We need to evaluate what requires multilateral action as opposed to national, bilateral or plurilateral action. We also need to ask ourselves what is the best value that a multilateral institution can add.

Such evaluations involve extensive dialogue between WIPO’s member states and relevant interests in the productive and cultural sectors – industry, creators, innovators and cultural institutions such as libraries. This should make it possible, in principle, for member states to agree on areas where some form of multilateral action is needed – and what can be done.

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