February 20, 2014

GIPC Asked and WIPO Candidates Respond – Alfredo Suescum

By Aaron Smethurst

In early March 2014, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Coordination Committee is expected to nominate a candidate for appointment as director general (DG).  Four candidates have indicated their interest in being selected for the role of WIPO DG: incumbent DG Francis Gurry (Australia), Geoffrey Onyeama (Nigeria), Alfredo Suescum (Panama), Jüri Seilenthal (Estonia).

Ahead of next month’s nomination, the GIPC asked each of the candidates three questions from the private sector which address critical issues in WIPO. So far, we’ve posted responses from Geoffrey Onyeama and Jüri Seilenthal. Today and in the coming weeks, we will post the responses from the remaining candidates.

Suescum_picsmToday we’ll highlight Alfredo Suescum, who is the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Panama to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is current chair of the WTO’s TRIPS Council. Below are his answers to the GIPC questionnaire and you may read his full CV here.

1) How can non-government stakeholders best engage at WIPO?  How could their engagement be improved, or further enhanced, in particular that from emerging countries and LDCs?

I believe strongly in an open-door policy and in decision-making that takes into account the interests of all stakeholders in the IP system.  Engagement begins with respect and respectful listening.  Outreach can certainly be improved, keeping in mind the need to balance energy expended, results, and available resources. The important thing is to enter into the exercise fully committed to make the interaction productive and valuable.

WIPO must make use of all available channels for outreach.  As DG, I would ensure that the Organization is fully present at the table with other organizations at fora where debates on IP are taking place.  This is a first and very important point of contact and dialogue with stakeholders that may not normally be present at WIPO.  NGOs must also take a step forward.  They can establish relationships with members in capitals and through delegations en Geneva.

The mechanics of outreach and contact can include many tools, from face-to-face meetings to effective use of social media.  I would begin by convening open meetings for the specific purpose of hearing from civil society and industry, and gathering their views as input for our meetings among WIPO Member States.  I also believe all general WIPO meetings should be webcast, unless there is a compelling reason not to. A well-managed Facebook site, for example, can be also be used to obtain diverse views from a broad base of interested parties.

Targeted informal meetings on specific issues in Geneva, regions or sub-regions, are also very valuable.  The DG can facilitate dialogue by reinstating and exploring new regular consultative mechanisms in Geneva with NGOs and Users.  Where Geneva as a meeting place results in limited participation, despite all efforts, WIPO should also conduct more outreach and consultation with NGOs and other stakeholders outside of Geneva, in regions or sub-regions, sometimes through in collaboration with associations and IP Offices.

As a rule, all contacts must be organized with clear objectives for meetings so that results add value to ongoing discussions.  These objectives must always include promotion of a wider understanding and acceptance of IP, its protection, IP’s role in spreading knowledge, culture, and human values. An important aim of all of these outreach efforts is to promote an open exchange of ideas among all major stakeholders,  including industry representatives, universities, research institutes, and sector groupings. National IP offices play a critical role in the effective implementation of IP policy, and special attention must be given to help them engage with and facilitate dialogue among their national stakeholders regarding the importance of IP policy and WIPO’s work.

2) What is your vision for WIPO in the coming years?  What will be your priorities for the organization, overall – in the mid-, as well as long-term?

As the use of IP expands across borders, it creates an ever greater need for WIPO to help develop effective IP management systems, and to foster better understanding of how national legal frameworks address the issues that arise from globalization. Unless the international IP system can respond effectively to achieve these objectives, users may call for alternate mechanisms for protecting their IP.  At the same time, the growth in regional trade agreements with IP provisions creates a risk of reduced interest in membership in WIPO treaties, and diminished relevance of WIPO overall.

In response to this challenge, I propose to make membership in WIPO treaty services so attractive and beneficial that countries join for that reason, rather than from obligation.  As DG I will see to it that national IP offices and other stakeholders can count on WIPO expertise to understand how to create value in IP, promote its use, foster further innovation, and meet the challenges and opportunities it presents.

One of the WIPO’s greatest opportunities is to help shape solutions to global problems and emerging issues, ensuring that the debate around IP is balanced and evidence-based.  Despite the obvious growing interest in the role of IP for issues such as trade, health, education, agriculture, and culture, we have yet to establish how WIPO will contribute its expertise toward shaping the post-2015 Millennium Development process. WIPO must ensure that technology, innovation, and other expressions of human creativity are acknowledged by all countries as playing a crucial and beneficial role in the lives of their people.  As DG, I would lead the Secretariat to establish, through dialogue and transparent dealing, the trust necessary to build a common foundation for this vision among WIPO Members and with the broader IP community.

While discussing these global and emerging issues, the Organization must maintain and improve the delivery of WIPO’s services in patents, trademarks, designs and dispute resolution.  As DG, I would ensure that WIPO sets the right priorities, for example, by promoting and preparing for accelerated growth in the Madrid and Hague Systems. We must constantly upgrade our on-line services and training to ensure that all our customers can use the systems easily and efficiently.

Through all of these efforts, we must exercise sound fiscal management, and changes in business procedures to control costs.  As DG, I would consult Member States early in the budget setting process to seek their input on potential cost efficiencies and budget priorities.  I would from the start lead by addressing simple things – first class travel, for example, is unnecessary.

WIPO must restore trust and accountability with its Member States, its staff and the global stakeholder community.  As DG, I will treat all with respect.  I will communicate early and often about the rationale for decisions taken by the Secretariat.  I will meet frequently with my senior management to secure their advice.  I will engage staff members at all levels, to solicit their ideas on how to provide excellent, efficient service and develop sensible approaches to new activities.  Staff will be given a performance review system where incentives are seen to reward excellence, and where assessments are a platform for improvement, not punishment.   In short, as Director General of WIPO, I will bring transparency, accountability, and sound governance back to the organization.

3) What will you do to promote publicly around the world the benefits of a strong international IP protection for enhancing cultural diversity, innovation, health and economic development?

WIPO’s core mission is to ensure that technology, innovation, and other expressions of human creativity play a crucial role in sustainable development, through the operation of intellectual property systems.  In defining its objectives for the Millennium Development Goals, the organization must articulate a vision that extends beyond its own work, to leverage the interest in IP by other institutions.  WIPO must make clear how IP can multiply the positive effects of other development initiatives, whether undertaken by UN agencies or other actors.  To take and hold the reins of leadership, WIPO must also make clear how IP can drive positive economic, social and environmental effects, for example by changing consumer behaviors to reduce carbon footprints, and making better use of limited energy resources.  I will as DG engage actively with Members, NGOs and other stakeholders, to understand their views and identify common ground and a shared vision.

Ultimately, this common vision must be implemented and promoted on the ground.  I would accomplish this in several ways:

  • Organize a substantive discussion on global IP issues, and IP issues related to development, such as the importance and effects of IP in a globalized world, and the challenges of ensuring that IP plays a positive role in individual countries, particularly in respect to highly emotive issues such as health care, food, energy, and education.
  • Enhance WIPO’s basic promotion mandate in all its aspects, for example by:
    • Working to increase understanding of and membership in WIPO treaties, based on their benefits, rather than just obligations;
    • Working constantly to upgrade on-line services and training to ensure that users of all capacities can use WIPO’s services easily and efficiently;
    • Working with partners such as other IGOs, national IP offices, academic institutions, research organizations, and industry groups, to promote understanding among both creators and users of how to build value in IP, stimulate its use, foster further innovation, and face the challenges and benefits of implementing a national IP strategy;
    • Restoring to the SME program the resources and priority necessary for effective promotion of practical approaches for using new ideas, technology, and delivery of goods and services.

As head of the Secretariat, I would ensure that it provides exceptional support to our stakeholders while upholding the principles of accountability, transparency, efficiency, and inclusiveness.  I would be honored to have the opportunity to apply these principles and perspectives to lead a more responsive and effective WIPO.

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