WIPO Elections Update: The Campaign Begins

It was amidst a backdrop of growing tensions and difficult negotiations at this year’s General Assembly that the 2014 process of electing the WIPO Director General officially began. Two candidates have been formally nominated for the position thus far: current incumbent Director General Francis Gurry from Australia, and Deputy Director General Geoffrey Oneayama from Nigeria.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry (left) congratulates Turkey's UN ambassador on adoption of a treaty increasing access for the blind. (WIPO/Emmanuel Berrod)

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry (left) congratulates Turkey’s UN ambassador on adoption of a treaty increasing access for the blind. (WIPO/Emmanuel Berrod)

Member States have until the 6th of December to bring forwards any other candidates for the position. Other regions, such as Latin America and Europe, are rumored to be considering sending forwards other potential candidates, but no specific names have emerged thus far. A rumor of a potential candidate coming forwards from the United States also sparked over the country’s recent discontent with the current WIPO administration. WIPO Deputy Director General James Pooley’s name was mentioned as a possible candidate in a recent letter of protest written by members of the US Congress, but the United States is not currently expected to put forth a candidate.

Although the final list of candidates might still be somewhat up in the air, what is clearer are the many tensions that any potential candidate will have to negotiate as head of the organization in the coming years.

This year’s General Assembly saw a number of longstanding tensions within the organization come to a head, along with a number of other issues, and the Assembly meetings concluded on October 3rd, 2013 before all agenda items had been discussed or decided, requiring an additional session to be held in December. Differing priorities within the organization became clear during discussions surrounding new treaties brewing at the SCCR, as well as during discussions about the implementation of the Development Agenda at the CDIP.

Tensions seemed to bubble over between Developing or Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Developed Countries on the role of WIPO as an organization, and wether it should focus its attention on the protection of Intellectual Property, or on greater accessibility and exceptions for users of IP.  Member states also disagreed about the selection process of the location new External Offices and the budget for the upcoming biennium, which will need to be resolved before the year’s end.  WIPO employees also presented a petition against proposed changes to the Internal Justice System of WIPO, which some saw as potentially discriminatory.

Geoffrey Oneayama in attendance at the 2013 Global Brand Strategy Conference

Geoffrey Oneayama in attendance at the 2013 Global Brand Strategy Conference

Any one of these issues could prove crucial in determining who wins the upcoming elections for WIPO Director General.  While such difficulties may reflect, or be designed to reflect, negatively on the current administration; the recently-negotiated Beijing and Marrakesh treaties can be counted among Director General Gurry’s, and the organization’s, recent accomplishments.

Both candidates present strong track records of expertise and achievement within the organization, having each joined WIPO in 1985, and eventually taking on prominent roles within different sectors of the organization. Certainly, this year’s elections will prove to be an interesting race, and a prominent factor in determining the future of the organization.

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About Sarah James

Sarah James recently completed a M.A. in Cultural Studies & Critical Theory at McMaster University. Her main area of academic focus is on New Media practices and their relationship to intellectual property. She graduated with honors from the University of Ottawa with a B.A. in Communication and Arts Administration. In the past, she has worked with the Canadian JUNO Awards Host Committee, on the subcommittee for Music and Education. She has traveled to China as a part of the International Scholar Laureate Program, and is currently preparing to move to Japan for a year.