Singaporean Daren Tang elected to head global patent agency: UN

Countries voted Wednesday to put the head of Singapore's national patent agency in charge of global intellectual property, replacing Australian Francis Gurry at of the helm of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

After a hotly contested and at times politicised race, Daren Tang won over five other candidates, including Chinese national Wang Binying, who has served as deputy chief of the UN agency for a decade.

In a second and final round of voting by the 83 members of WIPO's coordination committee, Tang took 55 votes over 28 for Wang.

The vote still needs to be confirmed during the agency's full general assembly in May, but that is traditionally a formality.

Once confirmed, he will replace Gurry when he steps down at the end of September after 12 years at the helm.

"It really is an honour," Tang, 47, told reporters after the vote, adding that his candidacy had received "support from every part of the world."

"We hope to bring to WIPO the spirit of inclusiveness, the spirit of Singapore as a bridge to connect east and west and north and south.... We are here to serve all regions, all countries," he said.

- 'Political game' -

His message of unity contrasted with politicised statements by some countries in the lead-up to the vote.

Washington, which threw its weight behind Tang, warned ahead of the election against the prospect of putting a Chinese national in charge of global intellectual property protection.

"We want a candidate who comes from a country with a history of protecting IP," US Ambassador Andrew Bremberg told AFP in a recent interview.

"China does not have that history," he said.

Beijing meanwhile has accused Washington of turning the election "into a political game".

Chinese Ambassador Chen Xu told reporters in Geneva last week that "the Americans are trying to do whatever they can and... they exert pressures (to vote for) anyone but China."

But after Wednesday's vote the tone was more conciliatory.

"We congratulate the elected, and we will continue our cooperation and the participation in WIPO," Chen told reporters.

"It is not defeat," he said, adding that Beijing's active engagement and participation in the process should be seen as "a very strong indication of China's readiness to make more contributions to the international community."

Wednesday's process had been expected to take far longer, with a separate round of voting to eliminate each of the five other candidates.

But after a first round, during which a delegation from each of WIPO's 83 member states walked to the front of the room to put their ballot in the voting box, all but two candidates dropped out.

Tang hailed all of the candidates, saying they had "run in a spirit of mutual respect", and said the unusually large number of candidates initially in the race showed "how important WIPO is to the global community."

If confirmed as head of the agency, he vowed to "connect IP much closer to the community, much more closer to the people, make IP more relevant to the man in the street."

"Innovation, creativity, technology, digitalisation ... will transform our lives, and IP is a very important part of that," he said.