Interview with Dr Francis Gurry - Challenges facing the global IP system


[Coat of Arms appears on screen with text: Australian Government, IP Australia]

[New text appears: What are the biggest challenges facing the global IP system?]

[Image changes to show Dr Francis Gurry, Director General, WIPO]

Dr Francis
Gurry:  Well, challenges facing the International Intellectual Property System, you know I think there are many.  Many, many, many so I'll have to be selective.  There's always the demand challenge and we speak about that a lot.  I mean, if you look at the way in which intellectual property titles, the demand for intellectual property titles is increasing.  It's quite extraordinary.  It constantly out performs the growth rate of the world economy and that's because, of course, these are the areas that constitute the new economy.  These are the knowledge intents of technology intensive areas that intellectual property is coming out of. 

So demand management, I think, is one major challenge, because it's very important that intellectual property remains accessible and it remains cost effective and it delivers timely results for industry, otherwise industry, they're not going to use our services out of sentimental reasons.  You know, they use them because they're getting value out of them.  So, I think that's a challenge for all of us and since one of the big drivers of the increase of demand is globalisation.  Part of the answer lies in cooperation, cooperation between offices, whether in platforms like case where IP Australia has been very influential.  Or, in training programs, examiner swaps; there's lots of forms of cooperation which I think can take us forward.

I think then, moving off the mechanical, I would say another big challenge we have is getting balance right in the intellectual property system.  You have to have intellectual property rights in order to ensure that you have appropriate incentives in place in the economy to generate new knowledge, to encourage investment in the creation of new knowledge, whether it's of the technological variety or cultural variety.  But those incentives have to be balanced against the need of society to share in the social benefit of the new knowledge and that's a constant balancing act and I think what we see now is that that balancing act was performed first on a systemic level, in terms, exclusive right, OK, 20 years and that was it.  Now I think people are asking much more granularity about the balance, so they'll take a particular drug, or vaccine, vaccination and say "We need a balance in relation to that."  There is at the moment an Ebola crisis in the world, so there is a little bit of work going on in trying to understand the Ebola viruses and to develop a vaccination or a cure and if that is done, you know, this will be operating in a situation in which there is no market.  The people afflicted by Ebola at this stage are very, very, very desperately poor and so they have no capacity to purchase.  So it's outside the ordinary market mechanisms and we need to find a different balance therefore for that particular situation.  And this is, I think, we're going to see all the time.  I mentioned that but it may be a case of finding a balance with respect to the internet, finding a balance with respect to the accessibility of content; music, films and literature, e-books on the internet.  I think that's a big challenge and it means that we all, I think, who are professionals in the IP area have to learn to be more articulate about the issues, because we have the knowledge of why intellectual property's important.  Intellectual property is being attacked and we have to be able to, not irrationally, but I think intelligently discuss the benefits of intellectual property, as well as the need for a balance.  I think that's another big question that we face.
You know, and in the third, sort of, major area and I'm really operating here.

[Dr Gurry uses a hand gesture where he raises his hand above his head to indicate a higher level]

Giving thoughts at a very high level, because it's such a vast topic, is that we have had the phenomenon of an intense wave of globalisation over the last 20 years in particular, the '90s and the 2000s and that wave of globalisation has brought with it global economic behaviour.  You know, most enterprises in Australia hope to be operating internationally one day.  That would be their objective and it's not only global economic behaviour, it's global use of technologies.  You know, we're all aware of the latest, at least, consumer technologies and they're operating all around the world and then there are global fashions and there are global trends.  We're watching similar sorts of television series all around the world and that really means that we have increasingly a single global market place.  But intellectual property operates, of course, nationally.  Sometimes regionally but mainly nationally and I think that's a long process of slow adjustment of the territorial intellectual property system to these realities of globalisation that we have, whether consciously or unconsciously, created and that of course can be something that inspires fear because people imagine immediately, you know, national patent offices disappearing.  So, that's not going to happen, you know, at least not while I'm around and it's this process, about which I speak, is a long process of slow adjustment and adaptation and the sorts of things that are involved are increased cooperation between offices. So I mentioned CASE previously - Centralised Access to Search and Examination Results - that's one small example of one of those adaptations to the reality of the global market place.

[New text appears: What role does IP play in social and economic development?]

You know I think it plays a fairly fundamental role.  I mean we all know the theories about this, that it helps encourage investment in the creation of new knowledge and that in turn builds capacity, add a capacity in particular to innovate and the innovation gives you comparative advantage, or competitive advantage, in a particular industry or company or country.  So that's the general theory that we all know.  But I think what's interesting is to see that in some countries in particular they've really placed importance on intellectual property, you know, at a very high level from the start and let me name the United States of America.  I think if you look at the Founding Fathers in the United States of America, they still call them "Fathers" because they were in those days, but the Founding Fathers in the United States of America, they were all speaking about intellectual property amongst the subjects that they were speaking about and the need for the Federal Government to make provisions in this regard.  Thomas Jefferson also, he wrote a great deal about this, so it's very prominent in the United States and has always been a major part of their economic policy and strategy.

I think the same is true in Japan.  In Japan after the Meiji restoration, you find that the first Patent Office Director then became subsequently Prime Minister and you see a big emphasis on this.  Why?  Because one of the things that they did upon the opening up of Japan was look at what was happening outside and they saw technologies which were much more advanced than theirs and said "How did these come about?" and that led them to the patent system.  So they had a patent law very, very, very early on after the restoration.  I think you could say the same thing about China.  You know China in 1984 introduced now a patent law after the opening of China in '79-'80.  It was very soon after that.  It was before they had a general economic law.  They placed a great deal of importance on this.  In that instance, because they were seeking to start to encourage some foreign investment and one of the early foreign investments in China was Volkswagen and when Volkswagen went they said "Have you got a patent law?"  The Chinese said "No" and that led to a reflection on whether they needed a patent law and they came out, interestingly, in favour of a patent law which is private property in 1984 when all of the other socialist countries had inventor certificates.  That is, the State owned the invention and gave the inventor a certificate and maybe a little prize, a little reward, but the State had the right to work the invention, which is not the market system of you having the property in invention and you having the possibility to, and the opportunity to go out and work it and make it function in the market.  So, those are three examples of, I think, you know, besides the theory of why intellectual property is important to economic systems for economic... and for economic development.  You can just observe.

[New text appears: What do you mean by "Intellectual Capital"?]

Yes, well I think what we see is that there has been, over the last couple of decades, a change in the nature of investment and the nature of the capital goods that are built up and whereas the investment used to be predominantly into physical capital, now we see it very much in terms of intellectual capital and that's a switch that we see amongst the advanced countries in particular and so we see that in certain of the advanced countries, they actually invest more each year in intellectual capital than in physical capital. It's the case in Sweden, it's the case in the United States of America and for certain others and certainly the rate of increase of investment in intellectual capital is greater than the rate of increase in investment in physical capital.  So, it's the sign of a knowledge economy really and it's in, all the time, of course, increasing the importance of intellectual property and let me try to make that just a bit more concrete.  What's it mean?  I mean, take the area of manufacturing.  So in the area of manufacturing we're all familiar with the industrial processes of manufacturing and how physically based they were.  What you see, in the last couple of years in particular, is a lot of attention to and a lot of investment in advanced manufacturing involving robotics and what is different about that is that, the major input is intellectual.  It's in developing the programs that will make the robots work and so that's an example where you see manufacturing becoming, you know, very much intellectual capital based and of course, it's a response to becoming more competitive in relation to low labour cost economies.  So, this is what's happening I think right across the economy and intellectual property is at the centre of it.

[Coat of Arms appears on screen with text: Australian Government, IP Australia]

Last updated: 
Wednesday, April 6, 2016