UPDATE 6 (2012-9-24): The Associated Press reports that WIPO didn’t violate sanctions. According to the article:
The U.N. patent agency says it has been cleared of breaking sanctions against North Korea by sending computers to the regime in Pyongyang.
The Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization said Monday that a U.N. panel found it had not violated any of three U.N. Security Council resolutions by providing technical assistance to North Korea.
In July, the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives launched an investigation into whether WIPO had violated U.N. sanctions by sending computers and other technology to Iran and North Korea.
WIPO has insisted it did nothing wrong in providing ‘‘standard IT equipment’’ to the patent and trademark offices in those two countries. The Iran review is still pending.
UPDATE 5 (2012-7-24): A preliminary assessment by the State Department has concluded that WIPO did not violate U.N. sanctions when it sent materials to the DPRK. According to a State Department briefing on July 24:
QUESTION: Two small things. One on WIPO, if that’s how it’s pronounced. WIPO. So following suggestions that WIPO allowed the transfer of banned technology to Iran and North Korea, has the United States been able to mount its own investigation of this?
MS. NULAND: Well, first and foremost, to repeat what we said here last week, we share the concerns raised here in Washington, in the media, regarding these equipment and software transfers by WIPO. We’ve been concerned since we first learned that they had transferred equipment to both North Korea and Iran. We’ve been in contact with WIPO and urged them to institute substantive safeguards.
Our own preliminary assessment, but we are still seeking more information from WIPO, is that there doesn’t appear to have been a violation of UN sanctions. However, this has now been referred to the sanctions committee for them to make their own determination, so we will await the views of the respective UN sanctions committees. We are also seeking more information from WIPO so that we can conclude our own work on whether there was any violation of U.S. law, but we don’t yet have everything that we need in order to make that assessment.
QUESTION: I understand that you don’t yet have everything you need to make a final assessment. But based on what you have, are you able to make a preliminary assessment as to whether or not any U.S. laws were broken?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have a preliminary assessment for you. We’re still seeking some more detail from WIPO.
QUESTION: And then one last thing. I believe there was supposed to have been a hearing in the House today on this that got canceled, I think because the WIPO officials were not going to be available to testify. Are you – given that you don’t yet have all the information that you want, are you satisfied that you are getting enough cooperation from them?
MS. NULAND: Well, we are continuing to work with them, and that is a conversation that is ongoing. I think we are – we have seen a number of positive steps from WIPO with regard to their procedures going forward that are important. For example, they have agreed to a commission that will have an external and independent auditing ability with regard to their projects to try to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future. As I said, they’re going to seek a retroactive opinion from the sanctions committee, which wasn’t evident at the beginning of this. And they’re also going to ensure that any future projects are reviewed by their legal counsel. But we are still working with them on some of this U.S. stuff that we need.
QUESTION: But you don’t feel like they’re stonewalling you on this?
MS. NULAND: We do not. No.
Here is what the Chicago Tribune had to say about the canceled House committee hearing:
On Tuesday, the ranking Republican and Democrats on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee accused Gurry of preventing two senior WIPO staff members from testifying before a planned committee hearing, forcing its cancellation.
The staff members asked to testify were James Pooley and Miranda Brown, a source familiar with the matter said.
“Director-General Gurry is obstructing this committee’s investigation of WIPO’s transfer of U.S.-origin technology to rogue regimes under international sanctions â€” a transfer that occurred on his watch,” Republican chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and ranking Democrat Howard Berman said in a statement.
A WIPO spokeswoman was not immediately available to comment on the statement. Gurry told Reuters late last week that he would allow “a properly competent person” to testify.
Lawmakers have suggested that the United States freeze contributions to WIPO until they are satisfied it is cooperating, although this would likely have a limited impact on the U.N. agency, which relies on member state contributions for only 10 percent of its budget.
UPDATE 4 (2012-7-19): WIPO has issued this statement on their web page:
Information and Clarifications Concerning WIPO’s Technical Assistance Programs
Geneva, July 19, 2012
Following some recent media attention and requests for information from certain member states relating to WIPO’s technical assistance programs, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry provided the following information and clarifications concerning the actions that have been undertaken, or are being undertaken, by the Organization in relation to the provision of technical assistance to countries that are the subject of United Nations (UN) sanctions.
The Director General reiterated that the Secretariat is treating concerns relating to the Organization’s technical assistance programs to countries that are the subject of UN sanctions with the utmost seriousness.
The actions undertaken include:
1. Following the expression of initial concerns over the provision of standard IT equipment to patent and trademark offices for the processing of intellectual property (IP) applications, new internal procedures were established and made operational on May 1, 2012. Under these procedures, all managers must refer any activity proposed in a country subject to UN sanctions to WIPO’s Legal Counsel for guidance and clearance. The Legal Counsel will, wherever necessary, consult the appropriate UN Sanctions Committee. Additionally, any work plan for a country subject to UN sanctions will be submitted at the commencement of each calendar year for guidance by the appropriate Sanctions Committee.
2. The provision of standard IT equipment to the IP offices of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Islamic Republic of Iran that occurred in the preceding years, within the context of the Organization’s business modernization program for IP Offices in developing countries, is being referred to the relevant UN Sanctions Committees for their information and guidance.
3. The initial steps are being undertaken for a full external and independent review of the technical assistance provided to countries subject to UN sanctions.
4. A new internal instruction has been issued ending any provision of IT hardware in any of WIPO’s technical assistance programs.
The Director General reiterates his commitment to transparency and re-affirms the readiness of the Secretariat to continue to provide any information requested by any of the member states of the Organization.
While the legal advice received with respect to the technical assistance provided to DPRK and Iran was that the technical assistance was not in breach of UN Sanctions, it is hoped that the measures outlined above will provide assurance that the Organization is treating this matter with the seriousness that it warrants.
For further information, please contact the Media Relations Section at WIPO:
Tel: (+41 22) – 338 81 61
Fax: (+41 22) – 338 81 40