Written by Jillian Friesen, GEI Associate
Econintersect: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has been on the defense ever since the news of WIPO sending computers to Iran
and North Korea broke. Both of these countries are listed on the UN sanctions list.
The controversy over WIPO’s actions have been in the spotlight in recent months. In a recent hearing, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren was quoted saying, “Really, it’s an outrage that WIPO would be transfering material, violating the sanctions that we have to North Korea and Iran…” The reasons and degrees of WIPO’s involvement are muddled.The news was first reported on FOX news the spring of 2012. Moncef Kateb, President of the WIPO Staff Association issued a memo dated on March 12. The memo states:
Dear Mr. Chairman,
The Staff Council was informed that WIPO is currently implementing a project with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) that is allegedly in violation of UN Security Resolutions 1218 and 1874.
Under such a project, computer hardware and other electronic equipment have been purchased and shipped to the DPRK’s Invention Office in Pyong-Yang.
The project aims at making available WIPO and other patent databases available to the DPRK Government – Controlled Intranet System.
Based on the information gathered by the Staff Council, Member States have not ben consulted and have no knowledge of this project. Thus, they were not given an opportunity to review of object to it. The project was allegedly approved directly by the Director General.
The Staff Council is extremely concerned by the fact that WIPO staff may be implementing a project in violation of two UN Security Council Resolutions related to Sanctions against the DPRK and possibly in violation of staff’s own international obligations, and their national laws.
The project also raises serious ethical concerns, namely whether an international Organization should be funding a project that would not be required if the state concerned allowed its population access to the internet.
In view of the seriousness of this matter and its potential implications for the international community, the Staff Council would like to urgently request the JIU to consider opening an investigation and report to its outcome to the Member States of WIPO.
Please accept, Dear Mr. Chairman, the assurances of my highest consideration.
WIPO insisted it did nothing wrong in transfering “standard IT equipment” to the North Korean and Iranian patent and trademark offices. However Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) who is the chairwoman of the committee was outraged.
“Providing these thugs with sensitive technology has the potential to enable their dangerous agendas.” … “This serious offfense cannot go overlooked or unpunished.”
Officials in the US State Department were questioned on the issue. Spokesman Patrick Ventrell issued a statement:
” We’re working with both the (WIPO) director general and other member-states to institute reforms that will ensure future development projects are properly reviewed prior to being approved and implemented.” … “And we’re working in New York to ensure that the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee play a more active role in advising international organizations on how to remain compliant with U.N. sanctions.”
WIPO published a press release earlier today. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry offered information and explainations:
Image Source: IPWatchdog
House Representative Eleana Ros-Lehtinen was quoted and mentioned in an earlier press release:
Image Source: Lexis Nexis
It is still unclear whether or not the actions by WIPO truly violate UN sanctions against the two countries. Many however, believe it was irresponsible.
- IPWatchdog: WIPO Embroiled in North Korean Computer Deal
- IPWatchdog: State Department, Congress Unhappy with World Intellectual Property Organization Sending Computers to Iran, North Korea
- LexisNexis News: WIPO Press Release: Committee Will Investigate UN Agency Caught Sending Technology to Iran, North Korea, Ros-Lehtinen Says