Singaporean Defeats Chinese Candidate to Head UN Patent Office

March 4, 2020 Updated: March 4, 2020

GENEVA—A Singaporean beat a Chinese candidate in the race to lead the world patent office, heading off Beijing’s bid for a fifth UN leadership role.

Daren Tang defeated fellow legal expert Wang Binying in a closed-door vote on Mar. 4 by dozens of countries to become director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which shapes global rules for intellectual property.

Intellectual property has been at the heart of a trade war between Washington and Beijing. The United States, along with many other Western countries, had backed Tang for the job. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month that Washington was following the patent office vote “very, very closely” and would “make sure that whoever runs that organization understands the importance of enforcing intellectual property rights across nations and across boundaries.”

Tang was chosen in a vote of WIPO’s coordinating committee, a group of 83 countries chaired by France which said the breakdown was 55 for Tang and 28 for the Chinese candidate.

“We are very pleased with the election outcome,” said Andrew Bremberg, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“We believe that today’s overwhelming vote was a clear demonstration of the importance of protecting intellectual property and the entire independence of WIPO in the international community,” he added.

Chinese ambassador Chen Xu told Reuters: “We express our gratitude for all who supported us, and congratulate who was elected. We are ready to continue our participation, involvement and contributions to this important international agency.”

The 193-member UN agency, based in Geneva, oversees a patent system in which China and its companies have a growing stake.

Under the leadership of outgoing Australian head Francis Gurry, WIPO has overseen an explosion in patent filings and has begun preliminary talks on whether artificial intelligence, or machines, can be inventors.

WIPO, in contrast to many other UN agencies which are underfunded, expects revenues of 880 million Swiss francs ($921 million) in 2020-2021, mostly due to patent filing fees.

China already has its nationals heading four UN agencies: the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Industrial Development Organization and the International Telecommunications Union.

That is more than any other member state in what the International Crisis Group’s Richard Gowan described as part of a bid “to win more influence” within the world body, especially in economic and development fields.

($1 = 0.9556 Swiss francs)

By Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay