Trevor Little

In September we reported on calls for official publication of two independent investigations into allegations against the serving director-general of WIPO, Francis Gurry, and disagreement over the firing of a WIPO staff member. Our story followed previous coverage of the growing pressure for a full investigation of accusations of improper conduct levelled at Gurry by James Pooley, a deputy director general of the UN body. It is now a year since Pooley’s allegations were first voiced, yet there has not been an official and independent investigation of these allegations. Our sister title Intellectual Asset Management (IAM) has today reported on the latest developments in this dispute and called for an independent investigation into the charges.

Amongst Pooley’s allegations were that Gurry had violated the human rights of WIPO employees whose DNA is said to have been collected without their permission and of suppressing evidence that this had occurred. Additionally it is alleged that Gurry improperly used his influence in a procurement procedure to benefit an Australian acquaintance. Responding to the allegations earlier today, a WIPO spokesperson told World Trademark Review: “Mr Gurry has already stated publicly that the allegations are without foundation and has no further comment.”

One year on, though, there has seemingly not been an official and independent investigation of these allegations and today IAM is reporting on a recent meeting (held on March 27) at which representatives from all WIPO member states were invited to a briefing from WIPO’s Independent Audit and Oversight Committee (IAOC), at which the resignation of the director of the internal WIPO audit unit was reported. Editor Joff Wild writes: “The news was significant because among the secondary claims made by Pooley was one that Gurry had sought to intimidate the director into not conducting an investigation into the DNA controversy. This had subsequently led the director to say that he had a conflict of interest and so was not in a positon to investigate Pooley’s allegations (although IAM understands that the IAOC had advised him at the time that no conflict, in fact, existed). In turn, this had led to the appointment of an outside firm to assess whether there was a case against the director general that merited investigation. The conclusion of that assessment, which was delivered last August, was that such a case did exist. Despite this, though, no investigation seems to have got underway. In fact, bizarrely, it now appears that the outgoing director of the internal WIPO audit unit has himself become the subject of an allegation, that the IAOC has recommended this be investigated externally and that in the meantime all other investigations have been suspended. IAM understands that several IAOC members indicated at the March 27 meeting that the complicated nature of unfolding developments means that it will take time to resolve them.”

In short, one year on there is still no outward sign of an investigation into the allegations, with a WIPO spokesperson stating: “WIPO’s Internal Oversight Charter is clear about the confidential nature of any complaints that are filed with the Internal Oversight Division and any follow up there may or may not be”.

A further concern highlighted by IAM is that, were an investigation to be undertaken by the director of the internal audit unit, they would essentially be tasked with investigating the position to which they report.  Wild adds: “The transcript we have obtained shows that delegations from only four countries – the US, France, Estonia and South Korea – raised any concerns when all this information was communicated to member states on March 27. Some other delegations may have kept their counsel, but the deafening silence on this from so many countries indicates that a fair number of them, at least, are happy enough with the way things are proceeding. Is it just me, or does anyone else find all of this outrageous?”

As IAM notes, over a long and distinguished career Gurry has done a great deal to advance the cause of IP as a force for good and has not – in lieu of an official, transparent investigation – been given the opportunity to publically address the allegations levelled at him.

At World Trademark Review we have no horse in this race but rather see the need for these accusations – made, lest we forget, by a deputy director general of the UN body – to be transparently and independently investigated, something that both Gurry, WIPO and its users should surely welcome. As Pooley himself previously told IAM: “We should expect a public institution to be responsive to situations like this and to be ready to co-operate fully with any attempts to look at what are very serious allegations. Were this not to be the case then staff inside the institution would conclude that it was not serious about uncovering cases of potential wrong-doing, while those on the outside would lose trust in it.”

The call is clear – investigate the allegations so that WIPO can put these claims behind it and continue the good work it has undertaken in an unhindered manner. 

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