A small controversy has been kicked up in the wake of Fox News' discovery that a United Nations organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), found a way to ship around $50 thousand worth of computer equipment to North Korea, ostensibly against UN sanctions. The purpose of the computer equipment was to give North Korea access to the WIPO's extensive patent database as a part of the organization's "standard technical assistance program for developing countries," the WIPO contends, and apparently consists of relatively standard computer and networking equipment. However, the method by which the WIPO purchased and imported the computers appears to have been purposefully designed to circumvent UN attention — although the WIPO disputes the assertion that its actions fell under any sanctions. The computer equipment is thought to be unlikely to be helpful in North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the reason for the sanctions.

North Korea is a member of WIPO and the organization is currently standing firm behind its decision to supply the country with computer equipment, although internal emails reveal that many within it expressed misgivings about the transaction if only because of the optics. Intellectual property is complicated enough when it just involves large corporations — mix in international politics and you have a recipe for just the sort of confusing scandal brewing here. It's not clear what, if any, actions the UN or other governments will take in response — but if nothing else the WIPO will want to pay more attention to how its actions look before it wades into these situations.