A New Era of Fairness: The WIPO Treaty on IP, Genetic Resources & Traditional Knowledge

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On May 24, 2024, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) marked a historic moment with the adoption of a Treaty on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, and Traditional Knowledge. This landmark agreement represents the culmination of decades of negotiations and addresses a critical gap in the global intellectual property (IP) landscape. This article delves into the significance of the Treaty, exploring its key provisions, potential impact, and remaining challenges.

The Need For This Treaty

The world’s biodiversity is a repository of resources with immense potential for scientific discovery and innovation. Genetic resources, the building blocks of life, play a crucial role in developing new medicines, agricultural products, and industrial applications. However, the story behind these resources often remains untold. Indigenous peoples and local communities have for millennia cultivated, managed, and safeguarded this biodiversity, accumulating a vast body of traditional knowledge associated with its use and properties. This traditional knowledge encompasses everything from medicinal practices and agricultural techniques to cultural beliefs.

The issue lies in the disconnect between the current IP system and the protection of traditional knowledge and genetic resources. While inventions based on genetic resources can be patented, the traditional knowledge itself often goes unrecognized and inadequately compensated. This creates a situation where indigenous communities, the custodians of this knowledge, are excluded from the benefits derived from its commercialization. Biopiracy, the misappropriation of genetic resources and traditional knowledge without fair compensation, further exacerbates the problem.

The Treaty aims to bridge this gap and establish a more equitable system.

Key Provisions of the Treaty

The Treaty comprises a comprehensive framework addressing various aspects of the relationship between IP, genetic resources, and traditional knowledge.

Here are some of its central features:

• Disclosure Requirement: For inventions relying on genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge, the treaty requires patent applicants to disclose the country of origin of the genetic resources and the indigenous peoples or local communities who provided the traditional knowledge. This transparency promotes accountability and facilitates benefit-sharing negotiations.

• Benefit-Sharing Mechanisms: The treaty encourages contracting parties to develop national measures that facilitate mutually agreed terms for benefit-sharing when genetic resources or TK are accessed and utilized. This includes fair compensation for indigenous communities and support for their sustainable development.

• Compliance Measures: The Treaty outlines procedures for parties to address violations and ensure compliance with its provisions.

Potential Impact of The Treaty

The Treaty has the potential to revolutionize the way genetic resources and traditional knowledge are accessed and utilized. Some of the anticipated benefits include:

• Empowering Indigenous Peoples: The treaty empowers indigenous communities to have a greater say in how their knowledge and resources are used. By requiring disclosure and promoting benefit-sharing, it fosters a more respectful and inclusive approach to scientific research and development.

• Fair and Equitable Access: The treaty encourages establishing clear procedures for accessing genetic resources and traditional knowledge, ensuring informed consent from indigenous communities and prior agreement on benefit-sharing arrangements.

• Biodiversity Conservation: By ensuring recognition and fair compensation for indigenous communities, the treaty incentivizes sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity.
• Innovation: By fostering transparency and collaboration, the treaty can pave the way for more responsible and equitable bioprospecting, leading to new discoveries and innovations that benefit all stakeholders.

Challenges & The Road Ahead

While the Treaty represents a significant step forward, challenges remain. The treaty itself is a framework, and effective implementation requires concrete national measures. Countries need to develop robust legal frameworks, capacity-building programs for indigenous communities, and efficient enforcement mechanisms. Additionally, raising awareness among researchers, patent offices, and indigenous communities themselves is crucial for successful implementation.

Furthermore, the issue of TK protection goes beyond patents. Trademarks and other forms of IP may also need to be addressed to ensure comprehensive protection for traditional knowledge expressions. Continued international dialogue and collaboration are essential to address these issues and refine the global IP system for the benefit of all.

Conclusion

The WIPO Treaty marks a new era in the world of intellectual property. It acknowledges the invaluable contributions of indigenous communities and local communities to global knowledge and biodiversity. By promoting transparency, accountability, and fair benefit-sharing, the treaty paves the way for a more just and equitable system that fosters innovation while respecting traditional knowledge and protecting the environment. The challenges of implementation remain, but with continued commitment and collaboration, the TK Treaty has the potential to create a future where the wisdom of the past fuels a sustainable and inclusive future for all.

In the Indian context, we have strived to maintain a depository of traditional knowledge. Established by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the TKDL is a massive digital database documenting traditional knowledge from various sources, particularly ancient Indian texts on Ayurveda and other medicinal practices. This documentation helps establish “prior art” and prevents the patenting of existing knowledge.

 

Author: Deveesha Tudekar


Lawyers.

Interns and Paralegals.

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