IP Above All Else: WIPO Defies UN Sanctions To Give Computers To North Korea

from the wow dept

This story is almost too crazy to believe. WIPO, the UN agency that more or less acts as the global IP maximalist agenda-setter, is now being accused of defying UN sanctions, by shipping computers and servers to North Korea. In what appears to be an attempt to avoid scrutiny over this very questionable transfer, WIPO tried to route everything through someone in China. The payment, however, was halted by Bank of America, who quickly realized that delivering computers to North Korea almost certainly violated sanctions against supplying technology to the country.

So why is WIPO giving computers to the North Korean government? Because, in its obsessively idiotic desire to expand intellectual property around the globe, the computers are supposed to help North Korea search foreign patent databases in order to abide by international patent law. Seriously. Why does NK need such computers? Because it bans the internet, so WIPO is concerned that people in North Korea can’t use the internet to search through international patents. So, in an astoundingly stupidly short-sighted move, WIPO thinks that by giving North Korea computers to set up a local database of patents and trademarks, it can help the country obey international patents.

“As part of WIPO’s technical assistance program — and through a mandate from its member states — the Organization has been supporting IP [intellectual property] offices in developing countries to facilitate the processing of patent and trademark applications since the 1990s,” the spokesman said. “The assistance in question was part of this program.”

The assistance “is intended to enhance the efficiency of the operation of registration for patents by replacing the current ICT equipment with more efficient ICT [information and communications technology] equipment,” the spokesman continued.

Of course, as plenty of people outside the IP-maximalist bubble realize, North Korea doesn’t give a damn about foreign patent and trademark applications. The country is actually well known for being a key source of counterfeiting. Second, and perhaps more important, the very reason that there’s a ban on sending technology to North Korea is the fact that the government has been making use of any tech it can get its hands on to further its nuclear ambitions. Third, does WIPO really want to be in the business of supporting North Korea’s ban on internet access? Are those the kinds of projects that the UN and WIPO think are worthwhile these days?

There’s a full project plan that lists out all of the computer equipment being supplied, and lots of talk about how it will be used for patent and trademark databases, but does anyone seriously believe that’s how it’s going to be used? North Korea even sent a letter to WIPO thanking it for its support in supplying these computers.

Part of the reason that this is now being investigated is because a lawyer at WIPO raised concerns about the project, noting that it appeared to be in violation of UN sanctions (yes, a UN organization is violating UN sanctions…). The lawyer points out that the proper channels of review were not used here, and that he’s:

…extremely concerned by the fact that WIPO staff may be implementing a project in violation of two UN Security Council Resolutions… and possibly in violation of staff’s own international obligations, and their national laws.

The project also raises serious ethical concerns, namely whether an International Organization should be funding a project that would not be required if the state concerned allowed its population to access the Internet.

WIPO, and its director, Francis Gurry, are insisting they’ve done nothing (nothing!) wrong at all in supplying computer equipment to North Korea — despite not being particularly public with the normal communication channels about the deal, and trying to route the whole thing through China. Clearly worried about the criticism, though, WIPO had another WIPO lawyer send around a legal memorandum that reads like a court filing, defending the actions. The memo whines that the decision by Bank of America to block the payment was based on US law, and it’s not subject to US law. Of course, that US law is based on those UN sanctions. As for the UN sanctions, the memorandum insists that these actions were all perfectly legal — believing that as long as you don’t say the computers will be used for nuclear efforts, then everything is fine and dandy. It’s as if WIPO thinks everyone else in the world is completely stupid.

That said, the very same lawyer, Edward Kwakwa, was also involved in a series of emails, in which he suggests that WIPO cancel the project, suggesting that it may violate the UN rules, and saying that:

I would suggest we go ahead ONLY if you think this arrangement is of crucial importance to WIPO. But given the sensitivities and the broad sweep of the sanctions language, I would prefer that WIPO simply desist from entering into any such arrangement, as it does not seem to be of any consequence or benefit to WIPO, and can bring more trouble than benefit ultimately.

Yes, that’s the same guy who wrote the legal memo defending the deal. That same email thread has someone from WIPO saying that perhaps they should cancel the deal… but also pointing out that canceling this particular deal with North Korea would have little impact, “if we take into consideration that similar operations have already been done in the past, and others should be done in the future.” In other words, it appears that WIPO has already sent similar technology to North Korea in the past — perhaps in violations of the sanctions, and appears prepared to do so again in the future.

The whole thing is really quite insane when you go through all the details. WIPO, the IP-maximalist organization that is a part of the UN, is, at the very least, aiding North Korea’s plan to keep the internet illegal, by supplying an entire computer system so that people in North Korea can research international patents and trademarks that they will almost certainly ignore — or use for the purpose of counterfeiting. All of this is almost certainly in violation of UN sanctions against North Korea, and it seems likely that the computing equipment will be repurposed for use by North Korea in its nuclear program, where they are desperate for computing power. On top of that, even as WIPO officials themselves suggest that the deal should be dropped (while admitting more are already planned…), they are also making the case publicly that this is all perfectly legal.

This should be a pretty big scandal, and absolutely calls into question the management of WIPO. Having an economically unsupportable IP maximalist position is one thing. Aiding the North Korean nuclear program is an entirely different issue…

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: bank of america

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “IP Above All Else: WIPO Defies UN Sanctions To Give Computers To North Korea”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
vastrightwing (profile) says:

Not surprising to me

Surprising? Not at all. This has all the hallmarks of short sighted greed. The special interest which sent these computers was not concerned about anything other than their agenda (what ever it may be). Almost every instance of this short sightedness can be attributed to the same thing; namely that all we care about is our agenda and we can figure a way around anything getting in our way, even if we have to lie or drag this out in court.

Michael Lockyear (profile) says:


Since when has N Korea had anything to do with terrorism?

Even the United States Department of State does not consider N Korea to be a sponsor of terrorism.

When the world’s biggest bully has one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, any country that entertains delusions of kicking that bully in the head has no choice but get tooled up.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Since when has N Korea had anything to do with terrorism?


When the world’s biggest bully has one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, any country that entertains delusions of kicking that bully in the head has no choice but get tooled up.

Uhm… They have 10 nukes and those were received right after Bush called them a part of the axis of evil. And while we’re grandstanding on Iran in the Middle East (no nukes unlike Israel that has 80 in the region), N. Korea continues to suffer in regards to humanitarian aid.

But they don’t have a lot of nukes by a long shot.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you’re so poor you’re living in the dark ages (literally, at night North Korea is almost completely dark in satellite views, much different then South Korea) then obviously making sure you aren’t violating millions of foreign patents is your #1 concern. Rather than you know, feeding your family, or keeping warm at night without electricity.

It’s good to know that WIPO has the right priorities in mind for North Korans.

Anonymous Coward says:

And our understanding is that it gets worse. The staff implementing many of these projects are specifically told to not to advertise their work. Just think back to the Africa enforcement project. Some of those names on that agenda were up to no good. And we also hear that the Swiss govt. are also party to some of this. ….. If one wants to know the truth one has to look under the carpet at wipo … Follow the names of those that are mostly in the limelight, etc…… And some of these countries are complicit …. Some are promised jobs in turn for their country’s vote for the head of he organization. Others spy on their colleagues … While others …. Etc… The list goes on. The Australian gentleman, surrounded by his two Australian colleagues seem to think they are above the law …. Scratch the surface and one will find much more mick Mack ….!

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Nothing so much amazes me as the truth that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

WIPO’s attitude reminds me more the the appeasers in Britain, France and the isolationist United States in the years leading up to 1939. For example Henry Ford’s insistence that trading with Nazi Germany was a good thing. Even to the point of supplying them with things like aircraft engines that had no other use than military ones. Right, “peace in our time”.

WIPO supplies the most oppressive regime on the planet with modern computers and the networking so that they will work well in the vague hope that somehow that will make them IP extremists like WIPO has become.

Now we have a document that outlines all of this “collaboration” in detail. In the vague hope that a regime that doesn’t get close to respecting “intellectual property”, in fact it ignores it, copies, disassembles it, takes it and does what it will with it. A country whose government is the very definition of what IP extremists like to call “piracy”.

Somehow appeasing them with this installation will magically get them to respect “intellectual property” and, hold your breath, respect it. Not only that but with similar white magic they will open the country to the Internet, stop testing nuclear weapons and long range missiles capable of carrying such weapons.

I have to assume that the chronic food shortages and starvation in North Korea will similarly come to a magical end.

The parallels are astonishing. Not that North Korea is capable of triggering World War 3. Though they are more than capable of starting a horrific nuclear exchange. And now, with spanking new equipment and advice from the best “pirates” WIPO can round up, far better able to do so.

These parallels came to me as I was reading through some of the causes of WW2 and reading through the linked PDF in Mike’s post.

Even of the worst doesn’t happen I do want to know what megaupload translates to in Korean. You can bet your bottom dollar that project will be one of the first they set up after WIPO’s technical advisers (or pirates, if you would) go home.

Put mildly it’s insane. Less mildly it’s fcukin’ insane.

So much for respect for UN sanctions on Korea, or any other rogue state, now that this UN agency reads them to mean that it applies to anyone but us.

And keep this in mind, IP extremist trolls, bob and others who want to complain about this site or piracy in general. WIPO didn’t just take the genie out of the bottle. They broke the damned bottle.

WIPO doesn’t think “intellectual property” is all that important. Why should anyone else?

Anonymous Coward says:

Does not selling US hardware (Dell) with US software (Oracle) also pose a problem? And that is not all, even if much of the patent information they are speaking of is already in the iCloud space, and anyone with Internet access can access the WIPO patent information database. It’s difficult to understand WIPO in this case of thinking that they are above all laws …. even Human Rights laws. Apparently (It’s recorded) the head of the organisation also said that as a UN org they are not bound by the Human Rights Charter. And in the area of copyright, the right to build their music registry with the music industry dictating the rules (and WIPO playing just a supporting role) is also in the interest of development. Unlike the other IP rights sectors, copyright is handled by a handful of persons that march to the tune of the head of the organisation and his obsessive vision of going all digital … And he allows these handful of people carte blanche in ‘manipulating’ representatives from the developing world – by promising technical assistance : one case in point is the work they do with Kenya and the copyright office. As if Kenya is representative of Africa! The stories heard (many documented) demonstrates the continued decline of a UN agency and its thinking of its importance and overreach. A pity! this is a typical example of a good opportunity gone to waste. Credibility rating? minus Zero.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow! How did Fox get those documents? I thought wikileaks was out of business! They are pretty damaging, if not about North Korea but about the management itself. To have the head of the staff union object in the manner it did is serious stuff. The documents, especially the e-mails show a dystfunctional org. Do they know what they are doing? Really? I would. Hate to think what their other operations look like. Who is the head of the organization? Is s-he qualified to run a multilateral institution? By the sounds of it, nope. Common sense would have predicted caution in dealing with North Korea – even if the people of the country also deserved some development aid. This person must have be a super megalomaniac …..

stderr says:

Makes sense

When you think about it, this strategy makes a lot of sense. Everybody knows teh intertubes are the prime Intellectual Property? infr^Wrapekilling machine, so keeping your shee^Wpopulation off it is the one measure that will further WIPO’s goals most. If that can be supported by sending computers that will be used for military purposes, just the better (and hey, don’t be such hypocrites, military purposes are what computers were developed for in the first place!). If the Beloved Leader[tm] should decide to drop a couple of bombs thus obtained, the loss will be small compared to the advancement of Intellectual Property? by the subsequent smithereenization of this cesspool of counterfeiting. A clear Win-Win Situation?!

That One Guy (profile) says:

"Quick, hide the evidence of our perfectly legal actions!"

Think the part that kills me the most, is that while they’re claiming, loudly and repeatedly, that they were doing nothing at all wrong… they were doing their absolute best to hide what they were doing, leading me to believe that at least someone high up had a pretty good idea that they weren’t doing what they were supposed to.

Chris says:

US bullies need to stop

The assembled US folks here need to remember that US law does NOT rule the world. And it never will.

If the WIPO lawyer thinks they are legally clear here, I’m inclined to believe him.

Oh, and routing stuff through China to North Korea makes much sense – that is where most of North Korean trade is, anyway.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...