This year, the Francis Gurry Lecture on Intellectual Property – now in its fifth year – was delivered by none other than its eponymous personage: Dr Francis Gurry himself.
Dr Gurry is the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and presently holds the honour of being the highest-ranking Australian official in a United Nations agency.
Dr Gurry spoke in a broad-ranging and engaging style to the topic of Re-thinking the Role of IP, in a well-attended lecture in Sydney on the evening of 21 August 2013, and subsequently in Melbourne on 22 August 2013.
In an entertaining opening salvo, Dr Gurry recounted the story of Irish King, King Diarmait, who pronounced a copyright in favour of St Finian of Clonary Abbey. Finian was wronged by a studious missionary Columbkill, who copied his bible in secret. Despite Columbkill’s defence that Finian was none the worse off, King Diarmait is said to have famously ruled: “To every cow belongs its calf; to every book its copy”.
Themes explored by Dr Gurry concerned three primary transitions he sees as important context to the rising prominence of intellectual property issues: the shift to intangible value from tangible value, the rise of the east and decline of the west, and the shift from state to non-state power.
The first two transitions are familiar to most observers, but the increasing prominence of non-state power is less obvious. As an example, Dr Gurry referred to the widespread online protests that accompanied two related United States bills in 2011 and 2012, namely the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This included the Wikipedia blackout, for example, as well as a great many other instances of online activism in opposition to the proposed laws.
Dr Gurry went on to highlight IP laws and policy as increasingly the tool by which competition will be regulated, with innovation predominating as the mechanism by which firms, and indeed nation states, compete in a global economy.
Also, knowledge that is subject of registered IP rights is but the tip of the innovation iceberg: a wealth of information is locked up in ‘trade secrets’ or ‘confidential information’. Yet this is precisely the area in which territorial laws differ so widely between nations, if they even exist at all.
Dr Gurry touched on a number of other thought-provoking topics, but could not begin to explore them all in any depth, given the time constraints of the lecture.
Near closing, however, Dr Gurry left us with the views of Samuel Palmisano, outgoing IBM chief, who is reported to have expressed the opinion that IP will become one of the great geopolitical issues of the next century.
Video of the lecture is available here.
By David Perkins