WIPO caught secretly funneling cash to North Korea to buy patent database computers

A trusted insider source writes, "A real blockbuster of bizarre at WIPO [ed: The World Intellectual Trade Organization, the UN body responsible for copyright and patent treaties]. It seems that [WIPO director general] Francis Gurry has personally approved payment for new computer equipment to go to North Korea to modernise their patent office, and that WIPO have tried to do it by going around the UN office in South Korea designed to ensure that UN sanctions are not broken. The only thing that stopped this transaction taking place was that the Bank of America was prevented from transferring WIPO's money to China. The bizarre bit is that WIPO is trying to argue that what they were doing is inherently legal because it is development assistance. Development assistance, in this case, designed to help a rogue state violate patent protection, is what it looks like. The US and a few other countries are objecting to this, for obvious reasons, but it seems to me this is an example of WIPO doing the opposite of what is in the interest of patent holders and really everyone else as well."

In that letter, also obtained by Fox News, Kateb declared that so far as WIPO staffers could tell, WIPO’s member states “had not been consulted and have no knowledge of this project. Thus, they were not given an opportunity to review or object to it.” The project, Kateb said, “was allegedly approved directly by the director general.”

Gurry denied at the meeting with diplomats that WIPO’s technology transfer violated any international sanctions efforts. He subsequently circulated to the attending ambassadors a WIPO legal memorandum -- written by the office of WIPO legal counsel Edward Kwakwa -- which claimed that the computer exports were “part of WIPO’s technical assistance program,” which “does not violate any U.N. Security Council sanctions.”

The memo acknowledged that payment for the computers had been blocked by U.S. sanctions laws “enacted in part to implement” the binding U.N. sanctions. But it also declared that “WIPO, as an international organization, is not bound by the U.S. national law in this matter” and was still looking for ways to pay for the shipment.

EXCLUSIVE: Cash for computers: Is the U.N. busting its own sanctions in North Korea?


  1. I’m confused. Perhaps sending the computer equipment to North Korea violates sanctions, but how does an effort to help them modernize their patent system “help a rogue state violate patent protection”?

    1.  I wondered that myself.

      Then, I thought, what if it’s all their patent system does? I mean, if it doesn’t actually protect anything, at the core business level, then supporting them would be helping violate protection.

    2. +1.  That makes no sense whatsoever.  From the article:  “On the surface anyway, the latest WIPO technology transfer has little to do with nuclear weapons or satellite launches. It involves laptops, printers and servers intended to create a high-speed digital archive for North Korea’s Inventions Office — the equivalent of the U.S. Patent Office.”

      Also, the “trusted insider’s” comments that these computers are “designed to help a rogue state violate patent protection” completely ignore that patents are _national_ in scope.  There are US patents, British patents, Chinese patents, etc.  A United States patent does not apply to people in Canada, Germany, Mexico, or, for that matter, North Korea. If you want patent protection in those countries, then you need to apply separately for patents in those countries.

      The general principle of patent protection is that unless something is patented in your country, then you’re free to copy it. If the North Koreans want to copy something that’s previously been described in a public US patent filing, but not patented in North Korea, they’re free to do so.

      I would have expected better from Cory.

      1. I think the argument is that it is a hell of a lot easier for them to copy stuff if WIPO is giving them access to patent databases.

        1. Patent applications are published 18 months after filing. There’s nothing secret and they are all very accessible. That is the whole point of patent law: distribution of knowledge so society can benefit and build further on that knowledge, in return for a temporary monopoly. And a detailed description of the invention is required (an average person skilled in the art in the technical field concerned must be able to work the invention). Once lapsed, or if they’re not applied for in your country, you can freely copy and use the invention as you like. You just need internet access and download everything you want for free. Go here: http://www.epo.org/searching/free/espacenet.html for every PCT application ever published (and many more) . Ironically the site is down now (possibly because of Easter), but I use it several times a week, so it does work. 

    3. because you are being logical and that doesn’t help Fox turn this into one of those anti-UN, One World Government is coming, globalists are in control and will supersede the US constitution cuckoo bananas rants!

  2. It seems to me that WIPO can’t accuse N. Korea of patent violation if N.Korea can’t access patent databases. Therefore, it makes sense to give them that DB checking capability so WIPO takes away any ‘plausible deniability’ defense that N.Korea might try. I’d be interested how much of a problem N.Korean infringement is, given its limited trading capability.

  3. WIPO stands for World International Trade Organization? Huh? You’d think the P would stand for Property or something.

  4. @johngomm: I sure can’t think of anything else as a plausible motive… surely this Gurry isn’t a North Korean mole…

  5. As much as I am delighting in this curious farce, I’m really struck by the fact that North Korea would have the slightest difficulty in obtaining computers or patent database access. Much of the world’s supply of the things is assembled just a trifle north, in the closest thing that North Korea has to a friendly neighboring country, and one with more than a few ‘flexible’ import/export specialists.

    Sure, getting their hands on some fancy mil-spec avionics gear or something might be a bit cloak-and-dagger; but surely beige boxes by the palletload would be pretty trivial?

  6. I honestly cannot stop laughing at this. NK really only has power in a few select places already, and propaganda cities at that which are just huge ghost towns proclaiming how great NK is with giant speakers. So how are they gonna run the silly things anyway? (I know its a bit of a backward view, but its funny to see NK at night from space.)

      1. Dear Leader proves that even a humble desert rodent may support Turing-Completeness through collective class conscious labor; and you scorn this? 

    1. Obviously you haven’t heard about the fabulous Sci-Tech festival about to be held. The festival will involve group and individual public presentations of sci-tech achievements and lectures on latest science and technology, services for intellectual interchange, different kinds of technological services for ultra-modern products and display competition. I mean, what more could you want to prove that the DPRK is a fully modern nation?

  7. Strange to link to a Fox News report, where you get uninformed and ignorant comments like: ““Any augmentation of North Korean computer power is something that can be used immediately in their nuclear program,” said Bolton, who is a Fox News contributor.”

    A laptop computer to search a CD-ROM or a hard disk is not the sort of think you build into a cluster for nuclear physics calculations.

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