Singaporean defeats Chinese candidate to head U.N. patent office

GENEVA (Reuters) - A Singaporean beat a Chinese candidate in the race to lead the world patent office, heading off Beijing’s bid for a fifth U.N. leadership role, much to the satisfaction of the United States.

The headquarter of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland March 3, 2020. Picture taken March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Daren Tang defeated fellow legal expert Wang Binying in a closed-door vote 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 and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month that Washington was following the patent office vote “very, very closely”.

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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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 and Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the International Crisis Group think-tank, said it was part of Beijing’s drive to win more influence within the United Nations, especially in economic and development fields.

($1 = 0.9556 Swiss francs)

Additional reporting by Vincent Lee in Beijing and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Robert Birsel and Pravin Char