Panel: More Balance Needed In IP And Trade; Disclosure May Not Be Enough 29/01/2008 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)By Catherine Saez A more balanced international regime for intellectual property rights and trade is needed to rectify the current system, which too strongly favours developed countries, developing country panellists said at a recent event. But some say that a proposed requirement to disclose the origin of genetic material and associated traditional knowledge in patent applications would not be sufficient to improve this balance. The current patent system has been seen as the primary enabling mechanism for biopiracy, the misappropriation of genetic resources, said panellist Xuan Li, coordinator of the innovation and access to knowledge programme at the intergovernmental South Centre. The World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) also has allowed the misappropriation of genetic resources, she said. Li made the remarks at a 24 January event organised by the South Centre and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), held alongside a weeklong meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) working group on access and benefit sharing (ABS). A Chinese official on the panel also raised these concerns and said that TRIPS is sometimes unbalanced and privileges the holder of IP. A more balanced system should be devised in the future that would be more favourable to developing countries, the official said, adding that an amendment to TRIPS Article 29 on a mandatory disclosure requirement (see South Centre paper [pdf]) is proposed by developing countries including China, in order to bring the agreement more in line with CBD principles, like benefit sharing. The protection of biodiversity and the rights of indigenous peoples are being analysed at several international fora. Approaches to the disclosure of origin issue have been raised at the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the CBD. As the CBD is a prior treaty to TRIPS, under the Vienna Convention, TRIPS needs to be compatible with the CBD mandate, said panellist Dalindyebo Shabalala, director of the IP and sustainable development project at CIEL. The ABS working group was established by the CBD Conference of the Parties at its fifth meeting in May 2000, with a mandate to develop guidelines and other approaches to assist parties and stakeholders with the implementation of the access and benefit-sharing provisions of the convention. Another mandate was given to the working group in 2004 to elaborate and negotiate an international regime on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing with the aim of adopting an instrument to effectively implement provisions in Articles 8 and 15 and the three objectives of the convention. These include conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources. In the second mandate of the ABS working group, WIPO was asked to play a significant role in CBD deliberations. Some industrialised countries have sought to have WIPO play the role of the major provider of technical expertise on IP-related issues such as the protection of traditional knowledge and disclosure of origin, according to Shabalala. However, the processes at WIPO do not fully reflect the human rights dimension of the protection of indigenous/traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, as the delegates and the secretariat have a lack of experience on human rights and environmental issues, he said. According to Shabalala, other United Nations agencies also have competence in understanding IP issues, such as the World Health Organization or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Concerning a certificate of origin for resources, Pierluigi Bozzi of the Economics Department at the University of Rome put into perspective the importance of knowing the precise origin of genetic resources in the context of the CBD. “The unlawful removal of a resource becomes visible only after the event and in times and places far from the original context,” he said. The real asset of the ascertainment of the place of the origin of genetic resources would be to bring management and control of a biological element back to its own ecosystem, allowing the country to bear the responsibility for the knowledge and the management of that specific biological component. This would also allow the benefits and incentives to be spread across the entire value chain, not only to the end of it, according to Bozzi. The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits is a “prerequisite” to realise the two first objectives of the CBD (conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity), he said. The indigenous perspective on disclosure seems somewhat different, according to Le’a Malia Kanehe, legal analyst at the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism. She said that several problems had been identified with disclosure, such as trans-boundary people or biopiracy having taken place prior to the CBD. The latter case would mean that genetic resources would be ex-situ, outside of indigenous control. But the main concern of the indigenous peoples, according to Kanehe, is to find out if disclosure really addresses the rights and interests of indigenous peoples, particularly in the case where national law does not recognise indigenous peoples’ rights. An ongoing international project to develop prior art databases of traditional knowledge for patent examiners also is potential dangerous as they might become a “shopping list” of traditional knowledge over which indigenous people could lose both ownership and control (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotechnology, 19 December 2007; IPW, Subscribers, 17 December 2007). An international patent system might not be consistent with local customary laws, she said. Indigenous people should have the choice whether or not to commercialise their knowledge. “We don’t want to be third-party beneficiaries,” she said. Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com. 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