The World of International Organizations

Singaporean chosen as next WIPO director

WIPO's headquarters in Geneva (AN/Eric Bridiers)

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s top governing body on Friday appointed Daren Tang, a lawyer from Singapore, to serve as its next chief in a contest reflecting U.S.-China tensions over business technology.

The 47-year-old Tang, who for the past seven years has been chief executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, is set to assume his new job at the start of October. He will succeed WIPO Director General Francis Gurry of Australia, who has headed the U.N. intellectual property agency since 2008.

The race to lead WIPO began last year with candidates from 10 nations: Argentina, China, Colombia, Estonia, Ghana, Japan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Peru and Singapore. The four candidates from Argentina, Estonia, Japan and Nigeria withdrew earlier this year.

On March 4, a WIPO selection committee met to nominate one of the remaining candidates to the top post. Tang emerged atop the field after two rounds of voting by secret ballot. Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, WIPO’s General Assembly confirmed the final candidate on Friday in a written procedure.

Stanley Lai, chairman of Singapore’s intellectual property office, praised Tang for his “vision orientation, energy, outcomes and capabilities.”

Tang said he was grateful to WIPO’s 193 member nations for their “support and confidence in entrusting me with this immense responsibility in these unprecedented times,” as the world economy buckles under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic that has infected millions and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold misery and brought the world to a standstill, but has also reminded us of our common humanity,” Tang said in a statement.

“More than ever, the WIPO community needs to unite to support our inventors, innovators and creators, all of whom are playing critical roles in helping us overcome this grave pandemic,” he said, “whether it is in finding a cure for the virus, allowing us to stay connected through technology, or lifting our spirits during this challenging period.”

Tang, who holds a law degree from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law and a master of laws from Washington’s Georgetown University Law Center, will become WIPO’s fifth director general.

Gurry, the current WIPO chief, was preceded in the job by Sudanese civil servant Kamil Idris, Hungarian-American lawyer Árpád Bogsch and Dutch professor Georg Bodenhausen going back to 1970, when the WIPO Convention took effect and the agency reorganized. It joined the United Nations system in 1974.

Washington vs. Beijing

Tang had the United States’ backing, and his stiffest competition arguably came from China’s candidate, WIPO Deputy Director General Wang Binying, who oversees the agency’s Brands and Designs Sector.

After earning university law degrees in the United States in the 1980s, Wang worked at the China Trademark Service and joined WIPO in 1992. Over nearly three decades with WIPO, she rose steadily up the ranks of strategic policy and planning to become a manager of administrative and security oversight.

The choice between a U.S.-backed Singaporean official and a veteran WIPO administrator from China exposed deeper tensions between Washington and Beijing over business, trade and global power.

The United States has long claimed China steals technology from American companies, while China accused the United States of threatening retaliation against nations that backed China’s WIPO candidate. Among the concerns raised was the protection of WIPO’s global database of patents and trade secrets.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in his nominating letter that Wang is “entirely able to guide the organization” and contribute to the U.N.’s 17 anti-poverty Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

“As a leading nation in innovation and intellectual property,” he said, “China has been endeavoring to build its capacity in the development, application, protection and management of intellectual property and related services.”

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