Joff Wild

It is now a year since James Pooley, then the deputy director for innovation and technology at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), made a series of explosive allegations about the UN agency’s Director General Francis Gurry. Detailed in a Report of Misconduct filed in April 2014 (access via this Register story), Pooley made two main claims:

1. That Gurry had been involved in the removal of WIPO staff members' personal possessions, with a view to collecting their DNA, and had subsequently sought to prevent a full investigation of the allegations.

2. That Gurry improperly used his influence in a procurement procedure to benefit an Australian acquaintance.

These are charges that Gurry has consistently denied; but given their seriousness, and the identity of the person who submitted them, any reasonable observer would assume that they had been dealt with quickly through an official and independent investigation. Unfortunately, though, that is not how it has panned out. Instead, a full 12 months after they were made, the allegations still stand and remain uninvestigated. Recent developments suggest that this state of affairs is set to continue for a long time yet.

IAM understands that on 27th March, representatives from all WIPO member states were invited to a briefing from the organisation’s Independent Audit and Oversight Committee (IAOC). At the meeting the resignation of the director of the internal WIPO audit unit was reported. The news was significant because among the secondary claims made by Pooley was one that Gurry had sought to intimidate the director into not conducting an investigation into the DNA controversy. This had subsequently led the director to say that he had a conflict of interest and so was not in a positon to investigate Pooley’s allegations (although IAM understands that the IAOC had advised him at the time that no conflict, in fact, existed). In turn, this had led to the appointment of an outside firm to assess whether there was a case against the Director General that merited investigation. The conclusion of that assessment, which was delivered last August, was that such a case did exist

Despite this, though, no investigation seems to have got underway. In fact, bizarrely, it now appears that the outgoing director of the internal WIPO audit unit has himself become the subject of an allegation, that the IAOC has recommended this be investigated externally and that in the meantime all other investigations have been suspended. IAM understands that several IAOC members indicated at the 27th March meeting that the complicated nature of unfolding developments means that it will take time to resolve them.

What this also means is that once a new director of the internal audit unit is chosen to replace the one under investigation who has resigned, there should be no conflict of interest disbarring him/her from dealing with the Pooley allegations. IAM understands that the director of the internal audit unit reports to WIPO’s Director General.

To sum up, then: a year after detailed allegations of serious misconduct were made on the record against the WIPO Director General by one of his deputies, no investigation of these seems to have begun; neither does one look like getting underway any time soon. This, surely, is unacceptable.

What is also unacceptable is that absolutely none of this has been communicated in public. WIPO has never confirmed whether or not an investigation has been ordered, neither has any explanation been offered as to why the process is taking so long. In fact, the only public action that WIPO seems to have taken is to threaten blogger Gene Quinn with legal action for linking to the Pooley complaint. IAM has only learned about recent events because we have obtained a transcript of the 27th March meeting (as far as we know, this is not available online or elsewhere, either in print or as a recording).

In addition, if it turns out that any investigation that is eventually conducted is undertaken by someone who reports to the Director General that will raise serious concerns about how independent it can be. Furthermore, the transcript we have obtained shows that delegations from only four countries – the US, France, Estonia and South Korea – raised any concerns when all this information was communicated to member states on 27th March. Some other delegations may have kept their counsel, but the deafening silence on this from so many countries indicates that a fair number of them, at least, are happy enough with the way that things are proceeding. Is it just me, or does anyone else find all of this outrageous?

Francis Gurry is an IP Hall of Fame inductee who, over a long and distinguished career, has done a great deal to advance the cause of IP as a force for good. He maintains that he is innocent of all the accusations that have been made against him, but he has never been given the opportunity to make his case and to show an independent third party that Pooley, another very distinguished member of the IP community with a long record of high-level service, is wrong. It is perplexing and concerning that WIPO has allowed this situation to fester for so long. It gives the very strong impression that as an institution WIPO is not capable of dealing with a matter as serious as this in a timely and transparent manner. And because this reflects so badly on WIPO, it also has a serious and negative impact on the standing of the United Nations, of which WIPO is a part.

Given the seriousness of the allegations made against Gurry and given the identity of the person who made them, nothing short of a fully transparent, fully independent investigation of them will suffice. That means one undertaken by a person or body with no links to WIPO, the UN or any of the individuals concerned, which offers complete protection to all witnesses, which reports in a timely manner and whose full findings are made public. Francis Gurry and James Pooley deserve nothing less. More importantly, though, as a UN agency funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of Swiss francs a year by its users, WIPO has to be seen to be acting in this way. If it fails to, the suspicion will grow that there are vested interests within and around the organisation who are more concerned about hiding behind process and procedure than they are in doing the right thing.

In an interview with IAM earlier this year, Pooley said: “We should expect a public institution to be responsive to situations like this and to be ready to co-operate fully with any attempts to look at what are very serious allegations. Were this not to be the case then staff inside the institution would conclude that it was not serious about uncovering cases of potential wrong-doing, while those on the outside would lose trust in it.” Does anyone inside WIPO or any of its member state delegations honestly disagree with this assessment? As we enter the second year since James Pooley filed his Report of Misconduct against Francis Gurry, it is hard not to wonder whether for some a whitewash is now the ultimate aim.