The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

views updated May 23 2018



Intellectual property includes industrial property, such as inventions, trademarks, and designs, on the one hand, and the objects of copyright and neighboring rights on the other. Until a century ago, there were no international instruments for the protection of intellectual property. Legislative provisions for the protection of inventors, writers, dramatists, and other creators of intellectual property varied from country to country and could be effective only within the borders of states adopting them. It came to be widely recognized that adequate protection of industrial property encourages industrialization, investment, and honest trade. That the arts would be advanced by legal safeguards in favor of their practitioners had long been argued, but such safeguards were difficult to devise and enact into law. The Paris Convention of 20 March 1883 and the Bern Convention of 9 September 1886 represented initial steps toward systematic provision of the two sorts of international protection that led eventually to the creation of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).


The 1883 Paris Convention established the International Union for the Protection of Industrial Property, also called the Paris Union. The convention is open to all states. Its most important functions have to do with patents for inventions and marks for goods and services.

The term industrial property is applied in its widest sense in the convention. In addition to inventions, industrial designs, trademarks, service marks, indications of source, and appellations of origin, it covers small patents called utility models in a few countries, trade names or the designations under which an industrial or commercial activity is carried on, and the suppression of unfair competition.

The convention states that members must provide the same protection of rights in industrial property to nationals of the other members as they provide to their own nationals. It permits foreigners to file for a patent that will apply in all member states within a year after first filing in the country of origin. Additionally, it defines conditions under which a state may license the use of a patent in its own territoryfor example, if the owner of the patent does not exploit it there.

The 1886 Bern Convention established the International Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, also called the Bern Union. It also is open to all states. Its function is the protection of copyright, the main beneficiaries of which include authors of books and articles; publishers of books, newspapers, and periodicals; composers of music; painters; photographers; sculptors; film producers; and creators of certain television programs. Under the convention, each member state must accord the same protection to the copyright of the nationals of the other member states as it accords to that of its own nationals. The convention also prescribes some minimum standards of protectionfor example, that copyright protection generally continues throughout the author's life and for 50 years thereafter. It includes special provisions for the benefit of developing countries.

In 1893, the secretariats of the Paris Union and the Bern Union were joined in the United International Bureaus for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI).

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was established by a convention signed at Stockholm 14 July 1967 by 51 states. When the convention entered into force on 26 April 1970, WIPO incorporated BIRPI and perpetuated its functions. BIRPI still has a function for members of the Paris or Bern unions that have not yet joined WIPO.

WIPO became the fourteenth specialized UN agency, the first new one since 1961, when the General Assembly approved that status on 17 December 1974.


The purposes of WIPO are twofold: (1) to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world through cooperation among states and, where appropriate, in collaboration with any other international organization; and (2) to ensure administrative cooperation among the unions.

Intellectual property comprises two main branches: industrial property, chiefly in inventions, trademarks, and industrial designs; and copyright, chiefly in literary, musical, artistic, photographic, and cinematographic works.

The WIPO Convention lists rights in intellectual property relating to literary, artistic, and scientific works; performances of artists; phonograms; broadcasts; inventions in all fields of human endeavor; scientific discoveries; industrial designs; trademarks; service marks; and commercial names and designations. The convention also offers protection against unfair competition and covers all other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary, or artistic fields.

As of May 2006, WIPO administered the following 23 unions or treaties (in addition to the convention establishing WIPO), listed in the chronological order of their creation:

  1. Industrial property (15): the Paris Union (1883), for the protection of industrial property; the Madrid Agreement (1891), for the repression of false or deceptive indications of source on goods; the Madrid Union (1891), for the international registration of marks; the Hague Union (1925), for the international deposit of industrial designs; the Nice Union (1957), for the international classification of goods and services for the purpose of registration of marks; the Lisbon Union (1958), for the protection of appellations of origin and their international registration; the Locarno Union (1968), establishing an international classification for industrial designs; the International Patent Cooperation (IPC) Union (1970), for the establishment of worldwide uniformity of patent classification; the Strasbourg Patent Classification Treaty (PCT) Union (1971), for cooperation in the filing, searching, and examination of international applications for the protection of inventions where such protection is sought in several countries; the Vienna Union (1973), establishing an international classification of the figurative elements of marks; the Budapest Union (1977), for the international recognition of the deposit of microorganisms for the purpose of patent procedure; the Nairobi Treaty (1981), on the protection of the Olympic symbol; the Washington (DC) Treaty (1989) on intellectual property in respect of integrated circuits; the Geneva Trademark Law Treaty (1994); the Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement; 1995/96) between WIPO and the World Trade Organization; and the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks (2006), as of 1 May 2006 not yet in force.
  2. Copyright and neighboring rights (8): the Bern Union (1886), for the protection of literary and artistic works; the Rome Convention (1961), for the protection of performers, producers of phonograms, and broadcasting organizations, jointly administered with the ILO and UNESCO; the Geneva Convention (1971), for the protection of producers of phonograms against unauthorized duplication of their phonograms; the Brussels Convention (1974), relating to the distribution of program-carrying signals transmitted by satellite; the Film Register Treaty (1989), on the international registration of audiovisual works; the WIPO Copyright Treaty (1996); the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (1996); and the Patent Law Treaty (2000), which applies to national and regional applications for patents for invention.


Membership in WIPO is open to any state that is a member of any of the unions, is a member of the UN or any of the specialized agencies or the IAEA, is party to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, or is invited by the General Assembly of WIPO to become a party to the WIPO Convention. The 183 members of WIPO (W), 169 members of the Paris Union (P), and 160 members of the Bern Union (B) as of 1 May 2006 are listed in the table on the next page.


The Paris and Bern unions each have an assembly consisting of the member states, meeting biennially. An executive committee elected by the General Assembly, consisting of one-fourth of the member states, meets annually. The other unions, in most cases, have an assembly but no executive committee.

WIPO itself has four organs: the General Assembly, the Conference, the Coordination Committee, and a secretariat called the International Bureau.

General Assembly

The General Assembly consists of all states party to the WIPO Convention that are also members of any of the unions. It meets biennially and has the highest authority of all the organs.


The Conference consists of all states party to the WIPO Convention, whether or not they are members of one or more of the unions. It meets biennially to discuss matters of general interest in the field of intellectual property, as well as to establish WIPO's program of technical legal assistance and the budget for that program.

Coordination Committee

The Coordination Committee meets annually. It consists of executive committee members of the Paris or the Bern union or both.

International Bureau

The International Bureau, located in Geneva, is the secretariat of the various governing bodies of WIPO and the unions. In 2006 it consisted of a staff of 938 people from 95 different countries, headed by a Director General. Arpad Bogsch, of the United States, was elected to successive terms as Director General since the establishment of WIPO in 1974. In 1997 he was replaced by Kamil Idris of Sudan as Director General.


Until January 1994, the budget was entirely met from contributions of member states; from fees paid by applicants for international protection of inventions, international registration of trademarks and appellations of origin, and deposit of industrial designs; and from the sale of publications. Beginning with the 199495 biennium, the WIPO governing bodies instituted a system of unitary contributions. The advantages of the unitary contribution system are that it makes the administration of contributions simpler, and will be an incentive for states to join more unions, since adherence will not increase the amount of their contribution. In addition, the governing bodies adopted a new formula for contributions that was intended to significantly lower overall cost of contributions for developing countries. About 85 percent-approximately SFR 540 million-of WIPO's budgeted expenditure for the 2004-2005 biennium came from earnings from registration systems. The remaining 15 percent came mainly from contributions from member states and sales of WIPO publications. All this income

AfghanistanWDjiboutiW, P, BLatviaW, P, BSt. Vincent
AlbaniaW, P, BDominicaW, P, BLebanonW, P, Band the Grenadines
AlgeriaW, P, BDominican RepublicW, P, BLesothW, P, BSamoaW
AndorraW, P, BEcuadorW, P, BLiberiaW, P, BSan MarinoW, P
AngolaWEgyptW, P, BLibyan Arab JamahiriyaW, P, BSão Tomé and PríncipeW, P
Antigua and BarbudaW, P, BEl SalvadorW, P, BLiechtensteinW, P, BSaudi ArabiaW
ArgentinaW, P, BEquatorial GuineaW, P, BLithuaniaW, P, BSenegalW, P, B
ArmeniaW, P, BEritreaWLuxembourgW, P, BSerbia and MontenegroW, P, B
AustraliaW, P, BEstoniaW, P, BMadagascarW, P, BSeychellesW, P
AustriaW, P, BEthiopiaWMalawiW, P, BSierra LeoneW, P
AzerbaijanW, P, BFijiW, BMalaysiaW, P, BSingaporeW, P, B
BahamasW, P, BFinlandW, P, BMaldivesWSlovakiaW, P, B
BahrainW, P, BFranceW, P, BMaliW, P, BSloveniaW, P, B
BangladeshW, P, BGabonW, P, BMaltaW, P, BSomaliaW
BarbadosW, P, BGambiaW, P, BMauritaniaW, P, BSouth AfricaW, P, B
BelarusW, P, BGeorgiaW, P, BMauritiusW, P, BSpainW, P, B
BelgiumW, P, BGermanyW, P, BMexicoW, P, BSri LankaW, P, B
BelizeW, P, BGhanaW, P, BMicronesia, Federated States ofBSudanW, P, B
BeniW, P, BGreeceW, P,Moldova, Republic oW, P,SurinamW, P,
BhutanW, P, BGrenadaW, P, BMonacoW, P, BSwazilandW, P, B
BoliviaW, P, BGuatemalaW, P, BMongoliaW, P, BSwedenW, P, B
Bosnia and HerzegovinaW, P, BGuineaW, P, BMoroccoW, P, BSwitzerlandW, P, B
BotswanaW, P, BGuinea-BissauW, P, BMozambiqueW, PSyrian Arab RepublicW, P, B
BrazilW, P, BGuyanaW, P, BMyanmarWTajikistanW, P, B
Brunei DarussalamWHaitiW, P, BNamibiaW, P, BThailandW, B
BulgariaW, P, BHoly See (Vatican)W, P, BNepalW, P, BThe Former Yugoslav
Burkina FasoW, P, BHondurasW, P, BNetherlandsW, P, BRepublic of MacedoniaW, P, B
BurundiW, PHungaryW, P, BNew ZealandW, P, BTogoW, P, B
CambodiaW, PIcelandW, P, BNicaraguaW, P, BTongaW, P, B
CameroonW, P, BIndiaW, P, BNigerW, P, BTrinidad and TobagoW, P, B
CanadaW, P, BIndonesiaW, P, BNigeriaW, P, BTunisiaW, P, B
Cape VerdeW, BIran, Islamic Republic ofW, PNorwayW, P, BTurkeyW, P, B
Central African RepublicW, P, BIraqW, POmanW, P, BTurkmenistanW, P
ChadW, P, BIrelandW, P, BPakistanW, P, BUgandaW, P
ChileW, P, BIsraelW, P, BPanamaW, P, BUkraineW, P, B
ChinaW, P, BItalyW, P, BPapua New GuineaW, PUnited Arab EmiratesW, P, B
ColombiaW, P, BJamaicaW, P, BParaguayW, P, BUnited KingdomW, P, B
ComorosW, P, BJapanW, P, BPeruW, P, BUnited Rep. of TanzaniaW, P, B
CongoW, P, BJordanW, P, BPhilippinesW, P, BUnited States of AmericaW, P, B
Congo, (DRC)W, P, BKazakhstanW, P, BPolandW, P, BUruguayW, P, B
Costa RicaW, P, BKenyaW, P, BPortugalW, P, BUzbekistanW, P, B
Côte d'IvoireW, P, BKorea, DemocraticQatarW, BVenezuelaW, P, B
CroatiaW, P, BPeople's Republic ofW, P, BRomaniaW, P, BVietnamW, P, B
CubaW, P, BKorea, Republic ofW, P, BRussian FederationW, P, BYemenW
CyprusW, P, BKuwaitW, BRwandaW, P, BZambiaW, P, B
Czech RepublicW, P, BKyrgyzstanW, P, BSt. Kitts and NevisW, P, BZimbabweW, P, B
DenmarkW, P, BLaosW, PSt. LuciaW, P, B

finances WIPO's operating expenditures, slightly over SFR 320 million per year.


A. Assistance to Developing Countries

One of the main objectives of WIPO is to assist developing countries in the fields of both industrial property and copyright.

In the field of industrial property, WIPO's chief aims are the following: (1) to encourage and increase, in quantity and quality, the creation of patentable inventions in developing countries by their own nationals and in their own enterprises and thereby to increase their technological self-reliance; (2) to improve conditions for the acquisition of foreign patented technology; (3) to increase the competitiveness of developing countries in international trade through better protection of trademarks; and (4) to make it easier and cheaper for developing countries to locate the technological information contained in patent documents.

In the field of copyright, the main objectives are the following:

  • to encourage and increase the creation of literary and artistic works in developing countries by their own nationals and thereby to maintain their national culture in their own languages and corresponding to their own ethnic and social traditions and aspirations; and
  • to improve conditions for the acquisition of the right to use or enjoy the literary and artistic works in which copyright is owned by foreigners.

In order to attain these objectives, most developing countries need to create or modernize domestic legislation and governmental institutions, accede to international treaties, and have more specialists in the fields of industrial property and copyright.

WIPO's assistance consists mainly of advice, training, and the furnishing of documents and equipment. Advice is given by the staff of WIPO, by experts chosen by WIPO, or at international meetings convened by WIPO. Training may be individual (on the job) or collective (in courses, seminars, and workshops) and may take place in the interested developing country, in an industrialized country, or in another developing country. The resources for such activities are provided in WIPO's budget or from donor countries or organizations, particularly UNDP.

More than 8,000 men and women from some 140 developing countries annually benefit from the 350 courses, seminars, and other meetings held under WIPO's cooperation for development program. In addition, the International Bureau gave advice and assistance to officials from newly independent governments of the former Soviet Union in connection with the preparation and enactment of intellectual property laws, the establishment of industrial property offices, as well as adherence to WIPO-administered treaties. In particular, the International Bureau advised the Interstate Council on the Protection of Industrial Property (which groups nine states from the former Soviet Union: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan) on a plan to set up a regional patent system under the Eurasian Patent Convention.

B. Other Activities

In order to adapt the treaties administered by WIPO to changing circumstances and needs, a constant watch is kept to see whether they need to be revised. The Paris Convention, for example, has had six revisions, the last in Stockholm in 1967, and the Bern Convention has had five, the last in Paris in 1971. WIPO also keeps international classifications of patents, trademarks, and industrial designs under review in order to keep them up-to-date.

In addition, WIPO observes changes in international industrial, trade, and cultural relations that seem to call for adaptations not only in the treaties administered by WIPO but also in national laws, regional arrangements, contractual practices, and professional activities in the field of intellectual property.

Thus, for example, in the field of industrial property, WIPO is considering the possibilities of uniform provisions in national patent laws, particularly concerning the effects on the patentability of an invention or a public disclosure of the invention by the inventor prior to filing a patent application. It also advocates laws and treaty provisions that would give more efficient protection against the counterfeiting of goods and would protect the intellectual creators of microchips or integrated circuits and inventions in biotechnology, including genetic engineering.

In the field of copyright, WIPO has been engaged, in some cases jointly with UNESCO, in recommending laws for the protection of computer programs, for works created by employee-authors, for expressions of folklore, for more effective protection of authors and performers in connection with cable television, and for protection against piratical editions of books, phonograms, and videotapes and excessive unauthorized reproduction. WIPO is also studying the copyright law aspects of the rental of phonograms and videograms, of direct broadcast satellites, and of electronic libraries and the possibility of creating an international register of audiovisual works.

In 1993, WIPO established the WIPO Worldwide Academy to conduct encounter sessions on current intellectual property issues at the policy level for government officials from developing countries. WIPO also awarded to three nationals from developing countries the first long-term scholarships to institutions in industrialized countries for intellectual property law studies.

The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center was established in July 1994 to offer enterprises and individuals four dispute-settlement procedures: mediation, arbitration, expedited arbitration (for small-scale disputes), and a combined procedure of mediation and arbitration.

The rise in the use of the Internet in the late 1990s and into the 2000s presented challenges for the intellectual property system in guaranteeing the orderly development of the digital society. WIPO developed the Digital Agenda, a work program to be developed in the new millennium, to respond to the connections between the Internet, digital technologies, and the intellectual property system. The Digital Agenda also aims to integrate developing countries into the Internet environment.

WIPO also developed a project called WIPOnet, a global intellectual property information network. It facilitates the digital exchange of intellectual property information between member states, and works to develop global standards and guidelines for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

International Registrations

The International Patent Documentation Center, established in Vienna in 1972 under an agreement between WIPO and the government of Austria, puts on computer the principal bibliographic data of almost 1 million patent documents a year and permits the retrieval of the data required for various purposes by patent offices, industry, and research and development institutions. The financial and operational responsibility lies with the Austrian government, but WIPO assists the center in its contacts with the patent offices of the various countries.

The International Bureau of WIPO, in Geneva, maintains four registration services in the fields of patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and appellations of origin.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

views updated May 23 2018


Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) comprises one of 16 specialized international agencies affiliated with the United Nations (UN). WIPO oversees the enforcement of 21 international treaties concerning the protection of intellectual property. By 2000, it possessed 175 member nations and an international staff of 760. WIPO is funded primarily through earnings from its three major intellectual property registration systems.

International safeguards for intellectual property, such as patents and trademarks, began in 1883 with the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. The Paris Convention granted protection to inventors for their inventions and ideas in foreign countries, as well as their country of residence. The 14 signatory nations instituted an International Bureaua forerunner of WIPOto enforce the Convention's terms. The international protection of artistic intellectual property followed in 1886 with the drafting of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. It gave artists and other creators control over the use of, and payment for, their works in the fine and performing arts. The Berne Convention also instituted a regulatory bureau. The two bureaus merged in 1893 into the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI), located in Berne, Switzerland. BIRPI formed the nucleus for WIPO.

BIRPI transferred to Geneva in 1960 and in 1970 changed its name to WIPO; it became a UN organization four years later. In 1996, WIPO entered a cooperative agreement with the World Trade Organization (WTO). WIPO's duties have grown from administering four international treaties to administering 21. Its work is conducted through its secretariat and by its member states. Among its primary duties, WIPO attempts to harmonize intellectual property legislation among nations, assist with applications for industrial property rights, arbitrate private intellectual property disputes, and help nations share intellectual property information.

WIPO fosters international intellectual property protection through 11 treaties that delineate common intellectual-property protection standards; all States that sign these treaties agree to enforce them within their own territories. Several WIPO treatiesthe Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), Madrid Agreement, and the Hague Agreementdirectly protect international patents, trademarks, and industrial designs, by guaranteeing that a single international filing is enforced by all WIPO signatory States. These treaties allow a creator or inventor to avoid making individual applications in each country for which they would like to obtain intellectual property protection. Between 1979 and 1999, the number of international patent applications increased nearly 30-fold.

WIPO generated several initiatives to tackle the burgeoning importance of information technology with regard to international intellectual-property issues. WIPO addressed the expanding world of global e-commerce in 1999, when it announced its Digital Agendaan initiative to develop programs and procedures that encourage the online dissemination and use of intellectual property, such as music, films, and trade marks, while safeguarding the rights of creators and owners. The Digital Agenda also targets the need to integrate developing countries into the global online environment, since they are in danger of falling behind industrialized nations with the growing digital divide. Finally, the Digital Agenda seeks to modify existing intellectual property laws so that they address the particular intellectual property concerns associated with the Web.

In January 2000 WIPO launched the Information Management for the Patent Cooperation Treaty (IM-PACT) Project. IMPACT, which constitutes the organization's largest information technology undertaking to date, will fully automate the workings of the PCT by providing electronic filing capabilities for applicants and electronic data transfer between WIPO, patent offices, and the PCT International Searching and Preliminary Examining Authorities.

Another such endeavor is WIPOnet, an online network linking independent intellectual property offices around the globe. Besides permitting the swift exchange of information, the streamlining of application procedures, and the development of common intellectual property standards, WIPOnet seeks to integrate developing countries within the digital environment. To this end, WIPO helps furnish intellectual property offices in such nations with Internet connections and basic information technology equipment. Modernization of intellectual property systems in developing countries is also facilitated through WIPO's Nationally-Focused Action Plans (NFAPs), which are tailored to the needs of each country.

In 1999, WIPO turned its attention to the increasingly common problem of "cybersquatting." Cybersquatters register domain names that approximate the names of well-known companies, brands, or celebrities. Squatters try to generate profit from the high recognition value of such names by drawing traffic to their sites, reselling the name, or holding the name for "ransom" in hopes of accruing a payoff from the entity whose name has been appropriated. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has authorized WIPO to handle cases filed under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. Many media celebrities have taken their cybersquatting complaints to WIPO for arbitration.


D'Amico, Mary Lisbeth. "First Cybersquatting Case Settled." Computerworld, January 24, 2000.

"WIPO Tackles the Net." Managing Intellectual Property, October, 1999.

World Intellectual Property Organization. "WIPO-World Intellectual Property Organization." Geneva, Switzerland: World Intellectual Property Organization, 2001. Available from

SEE ALSO: Cybersquatting; Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

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