Geographical Indications and the Obligation to Disclose the Origin of Biological Materials: Is a Compromise Possible under TRIPS?

Date period
11 October 2010

The relationship between negotiations and proposals on genetic resources and traditional knowledge in a number of international fora and processes, as diverse as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has been the subject of increased attention in recent years. Negotiations on a new Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Protocol, expected to be completed at the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the CBD, taking place later this month have further underlined the need to achieve coherence and mutual supportiveness  between discussions in these different fora. Against this background, the ICTSD Programme on IPRs and Sustainable Development is pleased to announce the availability of a new policy brief entitled, Geographical Indications and the obligation to disclose the origin of biological materials: is a compromise possible under TRIPS? by Carlos Correa  (University of Buenos Aires).

The policy brief examines the elements under discussion in the ‘draft TRIPS modalities', a proposal submitted by 110 countries at the WTO, in July 2008, which attempts to link TRIPS discussions on three issues: the creation of an international registry of geographical indications (GIs) for wines and spirits, the establishment of a disclosure obligation, and the extension of GIs protection. The ‘proposal suggests the inclusion of these issues as part of the ‘single undertaking'. Accordingly, the brief also considers the ‘TRIPS modalities' in the overall context of the Doha Work Programme.
The author underlines that while developing countries have also introduced the obligation to disclose the origin of biological materials into the WIPO and CBD agendas, the content and legal nature of new possible international instruments in these fora is still undefined. In addition, an amendment to the TRIPS Agreement to introduce a disclosure obligation would allow a Member to trigger the dispute settlement mechanism in cases where the obligation was not implemented.

In view of the above considerations, the author concludes that the adoption of an effective disclosure obligation in the context of the TRIPS Agreement should continue to be the priority for developing countries, taking into account that it would be one important element but would not provide the only solution sought for the problem of misappropriation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

ICTSD welcomes feedback and comments on this document. These can be sent to Ahmed Abdel Latif, Programme Manager for Intellectual Property and Technology (