02 November 2014

WIPO Director General Under Official Investigation for Misconduct

Francis GurryWorld Intellectual Property Review (WIPR) reported last week that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is now under formal investigation over allegations dating back to 2008 that Director General, Francis Gurry, ‘ordered a series of burglaries of workers’ offices in order to obtain samples of their DNA.’

I have written about these allegations on two previous occasions.  The first was back in December 2013, in response to articles written by Gene Quinn, on his estimable IP Watchdog blog (which is currently celebrating an incredible – in Internet terms – 15 years of continuous operation).  The second was in April of this year, following revelations that then Deputy Director General James Pooley had filed a ‘Report of Misconduct’ with WIPO, and with the US Mission in Geneva. 

On both occasions I expressed my suspicion that the resurfacing of the accusations against Gurry was at least partly motivated by US anger at WIPO’s involvement, under his direction, in UN assistance programs to North Korea and Iran, and building of closer ties with China and Russia.  At the time, Gurry was seeking reappointment as Director General for a second six-year term.  His reappointment was confirmed by the General Assembly on 8 May 2014.

Not that this was the first time Gurry had been the target of an effort to undermine his candidacy for the top job at WIPO.  His first term began controversially, with Brazil threatening at one stage to challenge his election on the basis that it was not legitimate.  What was allegedly behind this challenge was a concern that Gurry would be too ‘pro-developed-world’ – a fear that turned out to be unfounded – though the fact that it was Brazil’s own candidate who lost out by a single vote was no doubt a factor!  Ironically, it is Gurry’s pro-developing-world agenda that appears to have made him so unpopular with US politicians.

The Allegations

A copy of Pooley’s Report briefly surfaced in April (on the IP Watchdog blog), and I was quick enough to read it before threats of legal action by WIPO resulted in its removal.

To recap what I wrote at the time, the allegations made by Pooley against Gurry relate mainly to the the 2008 DNA ‘scandal’ in which, so the story goes, personal items were removed from the offices of a number of WIPO employees by a member of the organisation’s security staff, and provided to Swiss police for DNA and fingerprint analysis.  At the time, the police were engaged in a criminal investigation relating to anonymous and defamatory letters regarding the financial affairs of Francis Gurry and his wife that had been delivered to various people at WIPO.  The Swiss police could not conduct this aspect of the investigation directly themselves because, as UN employees, the WIPO staff enjoyed immunity, and Gurry’s predecessor, Dr Kamil Idris, had denied a request for access by the police.

Pooley characterised these events as ‘theft’ of DNA, and as a ‘violation of fundamental human rights’.  He also characterised entry to the employees’ offices as a ‘break-in’, albeit one conducted by WIPO’s own security staff.

While these events may well have taken place, it has never been established in the nearly seven years since they are said to have occurred (despite the allegations having been recycled on a number of occasions) that Gurry himself had any knowledge of the actions of WIPO security staff.  Certainly he initiated the police investigation, by virtue of filing a criminal defamation complaint, but no evidence has yet emerged of Gurry having been involved in any subsequent ‘cooperation’ between Swiss police and WIPO staff.

What Happens Next?

According to the WIPR report, the official procedure within WIPO is to conduct an internal preliminary evaluation to assess ‘whether there is credible evidence that a violation of standards of conduct has occurred’.  This preliminary review took place following the filing of Pooley’s allegations, with external involvement by Netherlands-based Labyrinth Risk Consulting and professional services firm KPMG.

A full investigation has apparently now commenced, and is expected to take up to four months to complete.


The allegations against Gurry that are now under formal investigation have been hanging over him for the entire period of his first term as Director General, and are now continuing into his second term.  They have been a repeated source of disruption, used as political capital in the intrigues and machinations that seem to be all too characteristic of multinational bodies such as WIPO. 

The failure of the organisation to quell the rumours and accusations has, quite aside from anything else, been damaging to its reputation and credibility.  Or, at least, it would have been, had the organisation’s reputation and credibility not already been under a cloud prior to Gurry taking of the reins from his predecessor.  Dr Idris was found to have falsified his birthdate when originally applying to WIPO, and was alleged to have been involved in other acts of fraud and corruption, although an independent external review by Ernst & Young found no conclusive evidence of this, its report [PDF, 475kB] stating that it ‘cannot conclude that certain employees of WIPO and third parties concerned might have committed any fraud or dishonest acts’.

Whatever the outcome of the investigation into the ‘Gurry affair’, perhaps it will finally bring an end to this unseemly and turbulent chapter in WIPO’s history, and allow the organisation to focus on its mission ‘to lead the development of a balanced and effective international intellectual property system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all.’

I certainly hope so… not least because, WIPO being a self-funding body, it is the fees paid by users of the international patent and trade marks systems (many of my clients among them) that are funding all of this internal political nonsense!

Image: ‘dkpto’ (via Wikimedia Commons), used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.


Unknown said...

A major US pharmaceutical company has also received several of those invoices.

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