The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is an international organization devoted to protecting intellectual property. WIPO is one of the specialized agencies of the United Nations. It has 177 member states, and administers 21 international treaties. The headquarters of WIPO are in Geneva, Switzerland.
WIPO entered its modern incarnation as a part of the UN in 1974. Its predecessor, BIRPI (Bureaux Internationaux Réunis pour la Protection de la Propriété Intellectuelle, french acronym for United International Bureau for the Protection of Intellectual Property) had been set up in 1893 to administer the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
Unlike other branches of the United Nations, WIPO has enormous financial resources. These flow from its collection of fees under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which it administers.
WIPO is a one country, one vote forum. This is important, because there is a significant north-south divide in the politics of intellectual property. During the 1960s and 70s, developing countries were able to block expansions to intellectual property treaties (such as universal pharmaceutical patents) which might have occurred through WIPO.
In the 1980s, this lead to the United States "forum shifting" intellectual property standard-setting out of WIPO and into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (later the WTO), where the North had greater control of the agenda. This strategy paid dividends with the enactment of TRIPs.
See also: WIPO Copyright Treaty, WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy