Bloomberg News

U.S. House Committee Urges Fresh Probe of UN Agency WIPO

July 17, 2012

The U.S. is pressing the World Intellectual Property Organization to allow an external probe of shipments it made to Iran and North Korea because the computer technology could have been used for military applications.

The United Nations agency known as WIPO should provide “unfettered access to all documents and witnesses relating to these transfers to Iran and North Korea,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman, members of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, wrote in a letter dated today to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.

WIPO promotes the use and classification of intellectual property and is mandated by its 185 member nations to provide materials to help developing countries modernize their patent offices. Iran and North Korea were beneficiaries of “standard information-technology equipment” after meeting WIPO’s needs- assessment and validation procedures, Edward Kwakwa, legal counsel at the Geneva-based organization, said July 4, adding that the programs didn’t contain the type of technology or training prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions.

Iran has been the subject of four rounds of UN sanctions aimed at curbing the development of nuclear weapons and including the supply or sale of equipment and technology that would aid the Persian Gulf nation’s atomic work. The WIPO shipments may violate UN and U.S. sanctions, said Berman.

Program Misuse

“It is about your organization’s misuse of those programs to send dual-use technology to two specific countries that are subject to Security Council sanctions,” the two U.S. representatives said. “We are also disturbed by your ongoing attempts to keep these technology transfers a secret within your organization.”

WIPO also had a technology-supply project with North Korea to support intellectual-property databases for inventors’ certificates, patents and non-patent literature, according to internal documents. Technical assistance included desktop computers, servers, printers and firewalls, the documents show.

The U.S. State Department said this month it was investigating WIPO’s activities in Iran and called for greater transparency and accountability at the institution.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs wants to ensure that WIPO’s member states are “fully consulted prior to the establishment of any future technical assistance programs,” according to Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, and Berman, a California Democrat.

WIPO has blocked the external investigation requested by the U.S. and sought to punish whistle-blowers in the organization, Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the committee, and Berman, the panel’s top Democrat, wrote today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Giles Broom in Geneva at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Frank Connelly at

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