UN Report: Indigenous Rights Ignored In Global IP Policy 14/01/2010 by David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch 6 Comments 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)The cultures of indigenous peoples have frequently been ignored when global standards on intellectual property were being set, a new United Nations report has stated. Intellectual property issues feature prominently in State of the World’s Indigenous People, the first UN publication that aims to give a comprehensive overview of how the 370 million individuals considered as indigenous fare in terms of their health, education, income and access to employment. Launched in Brussels and New York on 14 January, the report notes that global IP standards are mainly based on Western legal and economic principles that emphasise private ownership of knowledge and resources. Such principles, it says, “stand in stark contrast to indigenous worldviews, whereby knowledge is created and owned collectively and the responsibility for the use and transfer of the knowledge is guided by traditional laws and customs.” The full text of the report is available here [pdf]. The report from the UN’s Economic and Social Affairs Department notes that some artists and craftsmen belonging to indigenous peoples have availed of IP rules to gain copyright protection for “tangible” products such as wood carvings, silver jewellery or sculptures and that some traditional art, foods and clothing are subject to trademarks. Generally, however, traditional knowledge and folklore has not been eligible for IP protection as it does not apply to “old” creations. As a result, IP rules leave “most indigenous traditional knowledge and folklore vulnerable to appropriation, privatisation, monopolisation and even biopiracy by outsiders,” the report says. It cites a dispute over the Hoodia cactus as an example. Almost 60 years after anthropologists recorded how the San tribe in Africa ate this cactus to keep hunger at bay, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research patented P57, the plant’s appetite-suppressing trait in 1995. When P57 was used to bring a lucrative slimming drug to market, the San alleged that biopiracy had occurred and threatened to sue the council. In 2002, the council agreed that future royalties from the drug would be shared with the San. The report expresses particular concern about discussions being undertaken at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on traditional knowledge. In 2001, the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore was set up under WIPO’s auspices. The committee’s work has progressed slowly and to date no agreement has been reached on such issues as how traditional knowledge can be protected from being appropriated by corporations. Some indigenous peoples believe, the report says, that WIPO is “not an appropriate forum to set standards because it is limited by its mandate to promoting intellectual property rights as the only viable path to protecting traditional knowledge.” Lars-Anders Baer, president of the parliament for the Saami people in Sweden said that there has been “a lot of political tension” between industrialised and developing countries over issues relating to traditional knowledge. Nonetheless, he expressed hope that discussions on intellectual property will pay greater heed to issues affecting indigenous peoples in the future. An informed source said that “there was never a suggestion that WIPO is seeking a monopoly on the debate” relating to traditional knowledge “or that it thinks that the IP aspect is the most important” in the discussions over how knowledge should be protected. “WIPO is not trying to force TK [traditional knowledge] into the current system,” the source added. “It is a matter of adapting the current system to address TK.” James Love from Knowledge Ecology International, an organisation that monitors the setting of intellectual property rules, said that staff at WIPO’s Geneva headquarters had made a “good faith effort intellectually to explore the issues” of concern to indigenous peoples. He added, though, that “an endless set of grievances” have been raised in the negotiations and progress has been hampered by discussions over global inequalities. “It’s not like there are no merits to the grievances but it might be better to unpack the issues,” he said, suggesting that a breakthrough could be found on protecting folklore if it was separated from other questions. The UN report acknowledges, meanwhile, that there is no agreed worldwide definition of indigenous peoples. A working definition has nonetheless been offered by some scholars, indicating that indigenous peoples are those who belong to a community with historical roots in a particular location that precede its colonisation or invasion by an outside force. A UN spokesman said that just as its member states have discussed terrorism without having a precise definition of what it is, the lack of an agreement on what exactly constitutes an indigenous people did not prevent governments from addressing related topics. 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) Related David Cronin may be reached at email@example.com."UN Report: Indigenous Rights Ignored In Global IP Policy" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.