Francis Gurry on the future of intellectual property: opportunities and challenges


WIPO Director General Francis Gurry recently met with WIPO Magazine to reflect on the future as revolutionary developments in information technology (IT) and the life sciences begin to test the premises and practices of the intellectual property (IP) system.


What do you consider to be the main challenges facing the IP system?

Today we are seeing the emergence of technologies that will have a radical impact on the existing IP landscape. While we do not yet understand their full dimensions, we can anticipate major challenges for IP administration, policy and governance. We can also foresee significant development challenges arising from the huge differences in technological capacity that exist across the world. But with every challenge there are opportunities. The developments that are creating these challenges are not negative in themselves. We simply need to try to understand how they will impact the existing IP system and its future evolution.

What is driving the administrative challenge?

It is linked to rising global demand for IP rights. As IP becomes ever more central to the knowledge economy, demand for IP rights continues to rise and this is likely to continue. In 2015, for example, 2.9 million patent applications were filed along with around 6 million trademark applications and 870,000 design applications. These are extraordinary numbers. Managing this rising demand is a big challenge for IP offices. But as new IT solutions come on stream, there will be new opportunities to better manage this demand and administrative IP processes in general.

Is the existing IP system fit for purpose?

The current IP system is fit for many purposes, but there may be areas in which it needs to adapt. Artificial intelligence (AI) and the life sciences are two major areas of technological and scientific development that will raise important challenges for IP, as well as for other policy areas, given their multidimensional nature. AI, for example, raises technological and economic issues ranging from incentives for the production of useful AI systems to employment displacement. And inevitably ethical and governance issues will arise from the application of IT in the life sciences, in particular. So we need to think carefully about what these rapidly evolving technologies will mean for the IP system and its administration.

And the policy challenges?

Policy challenges are a consequence of both globalization and the accelerating pace of technological change. Together, these forces are fueling the rapid development, uptake and use of new technologies around the world in a process of radical and continuous disruption. Rapid deployment presents an opportunity to ensure that all countries benefit from the diffusion and use of these technologies. In the policy sphere, these developments are already creating unprecedented...

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