Last Monday we had a really casual day of school. We woke up, had some breakfast, and simply went to class… Except class was in Geneva, Switzerland and it happened to take place at the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization. To say that it was amazing is an understatement. If you’re wondering how exactly I ended up at 20 years old, in a sound proof room, at the organization that regulates trade across the world so am I, so I’ll start from the beginning.
After learning about the WTO at the beginning of the semester in class, a student simply asked if we were capable of visiting it while we were in Europe. A few weeks ago classes ended about twenty minutes early for a quick meeting. All 50 of the FM students grouped ourselves into a classroom to hear Kaplan ask, “So who would be interested in a trip to Geneva to visit the World Trade Organization?” The room sat in pause for a moment as we took in the question before everyone as a group said the obvious answer: we’re more than interested. Fast forward to this past Sunday morning at 6:15 AM and you’ll see a group of students, in their most fashionable form of PJs, waiting for a bus to take us to Geneva. As we all boarded the bus, people immediately put in their headphones, draped blankets over their laps, and pushed pillows behind their heads to sleep for the beginning of the eight hour bus ride. We arrived in Geneva around 3 pm, checked into a hostel, and had the night free to browse the Christmas markets and freeze our butts off as we explored yet another beautiful European city. After some amazing cheese fondue split with friends, I returned to the hostel and fell into an exhausted slumber that lasted till we woke up to attend our oh so casual Monday classes.
The world trade organization was just ten minutes down the street from our hostel. It drizzled on us as we walked in, all wearing our best business attire. We handed over our passports in exchange for a badge and after going through security we were led to a conference room. Complete with tan padded, soundproof walls, three long tables with mics and comfy, swivel desk chairs at each spot, and a booth where translators would normally sit, I felt about as official as I could get. After about five minutes of us taking photos and feeling too cool for out own good, in walked a woman who works at the WTO. She gave us an amazing presentation of how the WTO works, how meetings usually go down, and how decisions are made. She told us that a consensus vote for the WTO means that everyone must agree on all the regulations being set. If even one, super small country disagrees with what is proposed the regulation isn’t passed. This has currently led to the longest lapse of time between new WTO regulations, about 11 years. We also discussed the way meetings work. As much as I was hoping to hear juicy details about men and women in business suits yelling in multiple languages and jumping at each other across the table, it’s apparently much more civilized than that (who woulda thought?!). The tables are set in a way that is meant to provoke conversation and matters are handled respectfully. If anything gets out of hand, our guide, a secretary for the WTO steps in and guides the conversation. The WTO has three official languages, French, Spanish and English, although translators sit in glass booths to one side of the room, available for assistance if needed. As the meeting came to a close, I felt educated, lucky, and honestly pretty awesome. A Monday morning at the WTO? Just a day in the life.
Next we went to WIPO, or the World Intellectual Property Organization. We learned about patents, trademarks, design rights and more in a meeting equipped with headsets and mics once again. Patents on average take about 4 years to get passed. On the other hand, design rights, which protect my fellow FIT peers and their work, are usually passed in a couple of months. These rights last for about ten years before needing to be renewed. They allow men and women to protect their intelligence, their artistic ability, and their creativity. My favorite fun fact from the WIPO meeting was about the most well-known and recognizable brand in the world: Coca-Cola. Their trademark is worth a whopping 67.8 billion dollars.
After our meeting, WIPO provided us with sandwiches and waters before we had to board the bus to head back to Firenze, equipped with eight hours worth of Harry Potter movies (if you’ve gotta be on a bus for that long, you have to at least have quality marathon movies ready). In case you are struggling with the math (or not even doing the math), you’re correct in thinking we didn’t even spend 24 hours in Geneva… But it was 23 and a half hours that were well spent! After learning about these organizations in textbooks for years and hearing about them on the news, they finally became a real, whole concept to me. Next time a teacher mentions the WTO or WIPO in class, I can say I’ve been there… those are some pretty sweet bragging rights if you ask me.