WIPO Committee Reaches Standstill on Traditional Knowledge

8 July 2009

The WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) reached an impasse last week on the protection of indigenous knowledge, putting the future of the committee in jeopardy.

Members discussed creating a mechanism to protect intellectual property rights of indigenous communities but failed to reach a consensus on the way forward.  A group of developing countries argued that the committee should commit to creating a binding legal document and then negotiate the document's text.  Opponents, mostly from developed countries, argued that the committee should draft language first and then determine what type of agreement - binding or non-binding - is most appropriate.

The developing countries believe a binding agreement is necessary to protect their indigenous cultural resources. "A law without teeth can be breeched with impunity," said Marcia Stewart (also known as Queen Mother Moses), spokesperson for the Ethio-Africa Diaspora Union Millennium Council.

But representatives from other countries, including Canada, the European Union, Switzerland, and the US, argued that they need a better understanding of the issues before determining which type of outcome would be best.

The IGC committee was supposed to develop its next mandate during last week's meeting, which would include a proposal on traditional knowledge, and forward its recommendation to the WIPO General Assemblies for a decision. Without a recommendation, the committee has left its fate in the General Assemblies' hands, and it is unclear how the General Assemblies will proceed. The committee's current mandate is set to expire in October.

ICTSD reporting; "Late-Night Breakdown On Traditional Knowledge At WIPO; Future Unclear," INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH, 6 July 2009; "WIPO Members Seek Deal To Negotiate On Traditional Knowledge Protection," INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY WATCH, 3 July 2009.

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