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Marco M. Aleman: the best suited WIPO Director-General Candidate for the Coming Technological Challenges

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Director-General elections 2020

Never before has the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) elections for next Director General (DG) 2020 had so much at stake. With the latest advancements in technology, including Machine Learning (ML), Cyber Law, and especially, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the world is changing rapidly and a new set of international intellectual property (IP) laws will be needed to give proper form to these inevitable changes. We are already in a transition that is putting a lot of stress on both the economy and society, and a new set of IP laws will be needed to counteract any possible adverse effects. Mr. Marco M. Alemán, a Colombian candidate for DG WIPO, has the required background, experience, and education to make him the best option to face this coming technological challenges.

Information Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Information technology is moving toward a point where a vast new set of IP rules will soon be needed. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and algorithms are all changing the way we experience the world today. The robots preparing your Amazon purchase, self-driving cars operating in the United States, and the Compass Project training AI judges are just a few examples of the changes that are already happening and there are many more to come. AI will continue to perform many more tasks that, until now, have been done exclusively by humans.

But what does AI have to do with IP? AI intersects with IP in several ways. AI has a significant impact on the creation, production, and distribution of economic and cultural goods and services. AI is increasingly driving essential developments in technology and business. Increasing stores of big data and advances in affordable high computing power are fueling AI’s growth. All of these behaviors are currently regulated mainly by copyright, trademark, or patent law. However, these laws were created before AI was born, or at least, before it became a reality.

Requirements For the Next Director-General

To address this big technology transition, the new DG needs to know about multilateralism, new technologies, and have a deep understanding of IP. The new DG also needs to have strong leadership and managerial skills, as well as excellent policy and diplomacy capacities. The new DG needs to possess broad knowledge of IP laws and procedures, including those relating to patents, trademarks, copyrights, designs, and trade secrets. The DG needs to be capable of effectively and credibly presenting the importance of effective IP systems to innovation and economic growth and development. The DG also needs to be willing to embrace and implement new technological solutions to address problems and improve efficiencies.

However, multilateralism cannot be learned in books, at school, or by following social media. Multilateral and diplomacy capacities need to be learned on the job, with practice, and the more experienced, the better. The same goes for knowledge of IP. This field of law is known for being difficult to regulate. In the last few years, IP has become one of the most controversial subjects, especially when talking about patents or copyright law. That is why the more years of study and practice a candidate has in IP law, the more suited the candidate will be to occupy this role.

Technological Changes Mixed with Multilateralism

While many of the current candidates have interesting proposals on how to manage WIPO for these future challenges, Mr. Marco M. Alemán seems to have a knowledgeable understanding of these imminent critical technological changes. In his campaign proposals, he addresses the fact that the world is changing rapidly, and hence there is a need to understand the impact on innovation, creative and entrepreneurial endeavors, and the IP system. Mr. Alemán realizes that for WIPO to remain relevant, the organization needs to be agile enough to harness and embrace the current technological disruption. Mr. Alemán even proposes to integrate technologies such as artificial intelligence into WIPO’s activities, while demystifying the relationship of such advances with the IP system. Mr. Alemán's experience as Patent Director will be extremely useful in achieving these goals.

AI disruption will bring too many challenges between the Member States. An extensive multilateral experience, such as Mr. Alemán´s, will come beneficial to find a relevant consensus. WIPO needs to support the Member States and other stakeholders to anticipate and react to essential shifts affecting IP and offer guidance as to appropriate strategies. At the same time, WIPO must build resilience into its systems and services, upon which millions of IP users depend, to ensure they remain cost-effective and reliable. This will require a renewed partnership with the Member States and intensified engagement with IP users. Ultimately, strong partnerships will be essential to ensuring the IP system fulfills its purpose.

The Marrakesh Treaty is an example of proper consensus and multilateralism. This Treaty is WIPO’s fastest-growing international agreement and will most likely be signed worldwide in the years to come. In 2019, the United States of America joined the Treaty as its 50th member. This new member added a major global publishing center to the Treaty that promotes the increased worldwide availability of texts specially adapted for use by persons with visual or print impairments. Complementary to this job, WIPO and its partners created the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) in 2014 to help implement the Marrakesh Treaty at a practical level. Its activities include the ABC Global Book Service, with 320,000 titles currently available for cross-border exchange under the Treaty’s terms. This number will grow more every day.

The ability to forge consensus in a sophisticated multilateral forum requires DG candidates to have significant experience in understanding the diverse stakeholder interests and handling the complex negotiations that take place at WIPO. Thus, Mr. Alemán combines a strong technical knowledge of the intricacies of the international intellectual property system, in particular of the patent system, and the experience of having helped develop legislation and processes in different countries with different levels of development to be able to achieve significant progress.

In-depth Knowledge of IP Mixed with Multilateralism

Another essential requirement for this technological process is the technical knowledge of IP. AI requires a high level of technical expertise both in science and IP. There are many concerns surrounding the current ways AI is being used: facial recognition is being used by governments, employee morale is negatively affected when machines take over jobs, AI can be biased, actors and voices can be cloned, accelerated hacking is a problem. AI criminality is one of the biggest concerns yet and can take on many forms, including intercepting money, creating thousands of email accounts, attacking computer systems, interfering in elections, facilitating regular crimes such as fraud, and being used by terrorist organizations to break the law.

Having a strong command of patent law will save enormous amounts of time when a technical discussion is required over technological matters. There are too many political debates at WIPO that should be technical. When I say technical, I mean knowing and understanding what the IP matter is about, including its implications and consequences. Regretfully, not all of the debates amongst its members reach that required technical level. Many of the candidates seem to have relevant experience, but Mr. Alemán’s background is a real strength. Besides his extensive experience in Patent Law and helping develop patent legislation around the world, while working as Secretary of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents, he has been able to make the committee a place where technical discussions are the rule. This says a lot, as it shows not only a deep understanding of IP but also a successful application of a technical approach at a multilateral level.

However, the new DG will have to think about how to implement these legal changes around the globe. Currently, the use of IP systems is highly concentrated. Many countries still are unable to experience the effects that IP rights can have in helping them achieve their social development and economic goals. Practical programs that facilitate access to IP rights and their management to drive advancement must take into account both the benefits that the IP system brings and the other challenges faced by the Member States. Additionally, WIPO’s staff also needs to work more seamlessly across the organization, encourage deeper collaboration, and reduce duplication of tasks.

What is next?

Mr. Alemán has received numerous messages of support by international and national IP organizations, by IP lawyers, academics, and practitioners, naming him as the most experienced candidate for the job. Without a doubt, all of the candidates to DG have significant experience in IP matters. However, given the new challenges that technology and AI are bringing to the world, we need a DG that will have the savvy technical approach with a significant understanding of the patent system, how multilateral IP works and how to manage WIPO at an organizational level.

Election Procedure for DG

Under Article 8(3) of the WIPO Convention, to fill the position, WIPO’s Coordination Committee must nominate one of the proposed candidates and the General Assembly will then decide whether to appoint that candidate as the next Director-General. Should the General Assembly choose not to appoint the Committee’s proposed candidate, the Committee must then select a different candidate for the General Assembly to appoint.

This process will continue until the General Assembly decides to appoint the Committee’s chosen candidate. The Coordination Committee will gather on March 4 and 5, 2020, to nominate a candidate for the position. In accordance with Article 6(3) of the WIPO Convention, the General Assembly, the Paris Union Assembly, and the Berne Union Assembly will convene on May 7 and 8, 2020, to decide whether to appoint that candidate to be the next Director-General.

83 Voting Countries at WIPO

Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia (ad hoc), Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Romania, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (ex officio), Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Viet Nam, Zimbabwe.