Decisive Week Ahead For Protection Of Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources

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World Intellectual Property Organization member countries next week will work on draft negotiating texts on the protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore. New recommendations by a set of developing countries call for a diplomatic conference in 2013, and for an extension of the work of the committee in charge of reaching an international instrument, as its mandate ends this year.

The 19th session of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) is taking place from 18-22 July.

Significant progress has been achieved over the last year, according to participants, as the committee decided to work separately on the three segments of its mandate: traditional knowledge, folklore (traditional cultural expressions), and genetic resources, and asked expert working groups to produce negotiating texts.

This session is considered to be important, with two key challenges, according to WIPO. One is the discussion on the renewal of the mandate of the committee and the terms of the new mandate if it is agreed to extend it during the upcoming WIPO General Assembly from 26 September – 5 October 2011. The second challenge is to further advance work on the negotiating texts.

New “Like-Minded” Recommendations

A new set of recommendations on the protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore, submitted by the delegation of Indonesia on behalf of a group of developing countries, will also be discussed this week. According to WIPO, it was submitted last week, on 8 July.

The group of countries designated as “like-minded countries” includes Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Namibia, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand and Zimbabwe.

The recommendations are the results of the Second Session of Like-Minded Countries Meeting on the Protection of Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (GRTKF), which took place in Bali, Indonesia from 27-30 June.

According to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “approximately 80 participants, experts and observers from 17 Like Minded Countries (LMCs) in Asia, Africa and Group of Latin America and Caribbean countries (GRULAC)” attended the meeting as well as three international and non-governmental organisations: the WIPO secretariat, the Geneva-based South Centre and International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), a press release said.

The meeting examined the possibility of holding a diplomatic conference in 2013 “in order to ratify the draft legal texts on the protection of GRTKF into an international legal instrument(s),” the release said.

The recommendations include the convening of a diplomatic conference, the renewal of the IGC mandate to continue its work, in particular through text-based negotiations to reach agreement on an international legal instrument(s) to be submitted to the diplomatic conference in 2013, and to convene an adequate number of special sessions of the IGC until 2013 in addition to the regular sessions to help with the finalisation of the text(s).

The Bali meeting also produced three draft texts on TCEs, TK and genetic resources, to be further discussed by the group, and created a draft text on the TK and TCEs issue, bridging differences between the like-minded countries, according to the Indonesian press release. A source from the European Union told Intellectual Property Watch that delegations had not seen those texts yet and this remains a question.

Committee Mandate

The current mandate [pdf] of the IGC states that “The Committee is requested to submit to the 2011 General Assembly the text (or texts) of an international legal instrument (or instruments) which will ensure the effective protection of GRs, TK and TCEs. The General Assembly in 2011 will decide on convening a Diplomatic Conference.”

After the work of the 18th session of the committee, which took place from 9-13 May, a set of draft articles [pdf] for the protection of traditional cultural expressions is available at this session as a working document, so is a set of draft articles for the protection of traditional knowledge.

On the protection of genetic resources, which was the segment of the committee lagging behind, delegates will discuss a document with a set of objectives and principles [pdf], and a list of options for future work [pdf].

Negotiating documents on the three subjects covered by the committee bear evidence of active discussions during the May session (IPW, WIPO, 13 May 2011) with an assortment of alternative language. For example, in the draft articles on the protection of traditional cultural expressions, the objectives were left to be discussed at a later stage, and a number of options show in some articles such as the beneficiaries of the protection or exceptions and limitations to the protection.

On the protection of traditional knowledge, options and alternatives show in all draft articles. Sticking points appear to be eligibility for protection, the beneficiaries of the protection and the scope of the protection. On genetic resources, the draft objectives and principles are still riddled with a list of options in most sections, sometimes six or seven options that will have to be considered next week. In particular, the mandatory disclosure of genetic resources in patent applications, including the country of origin, is one of the major stumbling blocks of the negotiations.

In each of those three documents, the proposed insertions are underlined, words or phrases proposed by delegates to be deleted or in question are in square brackets, and drafting proposals from observers “which received Member State support are included,” according to WIPO.

Indigenous Peoples Dismayed at Last Session

During the last session, the indigenous groups felt that they had been kept by the negotiating governments to an observatory role (IPW, WIPO, 14 May 2011).

The groups worried that their concerns might not be reflected in a potential international instrument. In order to get their proposals into the negotiating text they have to get them supported by a government.

Indigenous peoples are seeking acknowledgment of their owners’ rights over their traditional knowledge and ask that any of their resources used must be with their “free, prior and informed consent.”

Catherine Saez may be reached at

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