WIPO Genetic Resources Talks Advance, Though Differences Linger

13 February 2014

Delegates meeting at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) last week made some limited progress in discussions on genetic resources and intellectual property rights, producing a new streamlined draft text to forward to the organisation's General Assembly in September.

However, the new document still contains many brackets on a range of important subjects.

These discussions are held under WIPO's Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), which aims to develop an international legal instrument(s) that would protect genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.

Problematic disclosure

One of the provisions that sparked the most debate last week was on the mandatory disclosure of the origin of genetic material used by patent applicants, or on which they seek patent claims.

While developing countries say that the requirement is essential for preventing biopiracy, some developed countries and industry groups argue that it could disincentivise innovation and be burdensome on patent offices and applicants.

According to the draft text, which still contains brackets in this area, each party shall require applicants to disclose the country of origin and source of the genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. However, new language has also been introduced to the effect that patent offices must provide sufficient effective guidance to applicants on how to meet disclosure requirements.

The range of post-grant sanctions for non-compliance with the disclosure requirement and whether these include patent revocation remains unresolved.

Misappropriation

The IGC also identified "preventing misappropriation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge" as the main policy objective of the proposed international instrument. For many years, developed countries had been reluctant to accept this concept as the key goal behind the WIPO discussions.

The widely-deliberated definition currently includes a US proposal that outlines what would not qualify as misappropriation - namely, any genetic resources and their associated traditional knowledge that have been attained lawfully. Some examples, they say, could include reading publications, reverse engineering, and inadvertent disclosure.

Another IGC meeting is scheduled for July, in the hopes of bridging the remaining differences before the General Assembly.

ICTSD reporting; "WIPO Genetic Resources Text Compiles Differences, Heads To General Assembly," IP-WATCH, 10 February 2014.

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