UN intellectual property watchdog set to discuss indigenous ownership next month

UN New Centre, 26 May 2005

Two draft provisions – one on protecting traditional cultural expression and folklore, the other for protecting traditional knowledge – are ready for consideration at a meeting of a United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) committee early next month, according to a senior WIPO official.

Addressing the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at UN Headquarters in New York this week, Geneva-based WIPO’s Simon Legrand said the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, created in 2000 to develop new legal instruments for knowledge accumulated over generations, had made substantial progress. The two drafts, including policy objectives and core principles, would be ready for discussion at the Committee’s next session from 6 to 10 June, he said, while the debate on Genetic Resources was also moving ahead.

The proposals for the debate included defensive protection of genetic resources by preventing the granting of patents for genetic resources that do not fulfil the requirements of novelty and “non-obviousness.” The committee has discussed how to ensure the participation of indigenous and local communities in its work, using modalities ranging from accreditation to accepting consultants, to setting up a voluntary fund to pay certain travel and other expenses, with the Permanent Forum being a key participant, Mr Legrand said.

The work of the Intergovernmental Committee had reached a critical phase, WIPO’s Orobola Fasehun said, and deserved the focused attention of indigenous and local community groups. The decade-old Permanent Forum ends its meetings tomorrow. Among its considerations have been questions of land rights and how Governmental activities to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) affect indigenous peoples.