UN Highlights IP Rights For Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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In recognition of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the secretary of the United Nations on 9 August raised the complex issue of intellectual property rights and indigenous knowledge. The Director General of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization also issued a message straddling the issue of IP rights and community ownership of traditional knowledge and resources.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on 9 August urging the world to “recognize the right of indigenous peoples to control their intellectual property.” He said indigenous peoples should be helped to “protect, develop and receive fair compensation for their cultural heritage and traditional knowledge.”

“Indigenous peoples face many challenges in maintaining their identity, traditions and customs, and their cultural contributions are at times exploited and commercialized, with little or no recognition,” Ban said. The theme of the day this year was “Indigenous designs: celebrating stories and cultures, crafting our own future.”

Ban statement here.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said the challenge is “to achieve a balance between protection of traditional cultures from misappropriation and promotion of their use on equitable and culturally appropriate terms. It also lies in ensuring that the communities who are their custodians and guardians can benefit economically from their traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression, while maintaining respect for those aspects of traditional cultures that communities do not wish be exploited commercially.”

Gurry noted that WIPO members are in text-based negotiations for an international legal instrument or instruments to ensure the effective protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions or folklore (IPW, WIPO, 22 July 2011). Indigenous groups have been concerned in those negotiations about their limited ability to be recognised as parties in the negotiations between governments. WIPO recently circulated a document from the committee in negotiations that indicated more funds are needed to pay for indigenous representatives’ participation in the committee proceedings.

“WIPO’s norm-setting and capacity-building work on defining the appropriate role of intellectual property in the protection, preservation and promotion of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions are an important contribution to better understanding and implementation of the United Nation Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and, in particular, its Article 31 that specifically deals with Indigenous Peoples’ intellectual property over their cultural heritage,” Gurry said.

Gurry statement here.

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