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…