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Traditional knowledge

Indian Experts Question Protecting Traditional Knowledge Through IP

There is a bill being considered in India that would create monopoly rights over traditional knowledge and classify it under intellectual property law, The Hindu's T. Nandakumar reports. R.S. Praveen Raj, a former examiner with the India Patent Office, said codifying formulations based on Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga could mean they would be shared in a database with the European Patent Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and leave "'scope for private appropriation of [traditional knowledge] by making cosmetic improvements.'"

Judge Recognizes Constitutional Right to Indigenous Medicine

There was an interesting bioethics ruling in Canada last month at the crossroads of traditional medicine and modern medicine. A young aboriginal girl has leukemia, and a Canadian judge ruled that her mother has a constitutional right to seek indigenous medicine, rather than chemotherapy, to treat her daughter, the Toronto Star's Jacques Gallant reports. The judge later clarified his ruling, writing that "'recognition and implementation of the right to use traditional medicines must remain consistent with the principle that the best interests of the child remain paramount.”'

The girl's treatment team includes a "doctor, a senior pediatric oncologist recommended by the government, and a Haudenosaunee chief who practises traditional medicine and was invited by the family," Gallant reports.

Taiwan Enacts Protection for Indigenous Peoples' Cultural Rights

Earlier this month, regulations in Taiwan went into effect to give indigenous peoples intellectual property rights over their traditional cultural expression, including religious ceremonies and folk crafts, Focus Taiwan News Channel reports. For example, that Tao people on Orchid Island has applied to protect the "Flying Fish Festival, the launching ceremonies of Tao balangays, or 'big boats,' along with the various symbols and patterns on the boats, such as the fish-eye and human-shaped patterns." 

There are 530,000 indigenous people in Taiwan, making up 2 percent of that country's population.

Indigenous People Being Displaced By Corporate Encroachment

The 370 million indigenous people around the world are being increasingly displaced because large companies are pushing onto their traditional territories to extract resources and because of rising property values, Reuters' Chris Arsenault reports. The International Fund for Agriculture Development reports that "indigenous farming practices are under threat from unclear land ownership structures, climate change and growing mono-crop plantations, and traditional knowledge can help preserve biodiversity."

International IP Protection For Traditional Knowledge Under Consideration

Intellectual property law doesn't protect the traditional knowledge and folklore of people, including indigenous peoples like American Indians. The problems vary: Who is the identifiable author or inventor if it's part of a group's culture? When did the work come into being if it's part of an oral tradition that changes? How can localized knowledge about the healing benefits of particular plants be patented if that use is already in the public sphere?

The World Intellectual Property Organization will be taking up international instruments aimed at protecting traditional knowledge and folklore from misappropriation, Intellectual Property Watch reports. Those instruments will be considered by the WIPO's General Assembly in September.

South Africa Enacts IP Law to Protect Indigenous Knowledge

South Africa has enacted a new intellectual property law to protect traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression, according to a report in IT in Government. The law is seeking to extend traditional IP laws to protect indigenous knowledge, and South Africa will establish registries under which indigenous communities can register creative works and also receive licensing fees. However, Owen Dean, chairman of intellectual property law at the University of Stellenbosch, said IP law cannot protect traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression because "'all IP is based on a policy which says you want to encourage creativity, so you give creators an incentive: exclusive control for a limited period, before the work becomes public domain. Indigenous knowledge is reversed: nothing is identifiably creative, and rights are awarded perpetually,'" IT in Government further reported.

Indigenous Peoples Ask World Intellectual Property Organization For International Instrument to Protect Traditional Knowledge and Genectic Resources

Intellectual Property Watch reports that "a panel addressing negotiators this week at the World Intellectual Property Organization asserted the property rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities over traditional knowledge and genetic resources and called on delegates to draft an international instrument compliant with their internationally recognised rights." The WIPO meeting took place this week.

James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, "criticised a proposal to exclude from disclosure requirement traditional knowledge in the public domain, and considered that databases or similar mechanisms might be useful but may not always be culturally appropriate, for instance where customary laws forbid disclosure to non-community members," Intellectual Property Watch further reported.

EU Introduces New Rules On Protecting Traditional Knowledge and Genetic Resources

Europe has reached an agreement to protect traditional knowledge held by indigenous peoples, according to an agreement on "The regulation will oblige users, such as private collectors and companies, academic researchers or scientific institutions, to check that genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge have been accessed legally and that the benefits are shared fairly and equitably, on the basis of mutually agreed terms."

New Biodiversity Forum Will Facilitate Indigenous Knowledge On Ecosystems

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, which was established in "April 2012 with a mandate to assess the state of the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems," is going to intergrate the knowledge of indigenous peoples into eco-policy, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation report. Unlike other international fora, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, do not engage indigenous communities in order to shape their work, the foundation report also says.

Could Maori Culture Be Trademarked By Multinationals?

IC Magazine asks if the Maori, or the indigenous people of New Zealand, could have their traditional knowledge and cultural customs copyrighted by multinational corporations under a trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Parntership. A draft of the TPP was released by Wikileaks.

The government of New Zealand "clearly opposes the 'informed consent or approval and involvement of the indigenous or local community holding such knowledge', before user rights (and later on copyright and trademark rights) are given to TPP members and their corresponding investors (multinational corporations)," according to IC Magazine.


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