WIPO Director General Urges Continued Support for Participation of Indigenous Groups in IGC

Geneva, July 6, 2007

The Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization, Dr. Kamil Idris, applauded the generosity of donors to the WIPO Voluntary Contribution Fund for Accredited Indigenous and Local Communities (“the Fund”) and urged member states and other potential donors to continue to offer their practical support by contributing to the Fund. This followed a review of the Fund this week by participants in the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) which is meeting in Geneva from July 3 to 12, 2007.

The WIPO Voluntary Contribution Fund was established by WIPO member states in October 2005 to facilitate the participation of indigenous and local communities in the work of the IGC. The Fund has so far financed the participation of representatives of indigenous and local communities from Cameroon, Congo, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Ukraine, and the USA.

“The Voluntary Contribution Fund has exceeded all expectations,” said Dr. Kamil Idris, WIPO Director General. “In particular, it has been possible to fund all the applicants from indigenous and local communities that were recommended by an independent Advisory Board. The voice and experience of indigenous and local communities have been a vital contribution to the IGC’s work, and WIPO’s other program activities in this area. The Voluntary Contribution Fund is an important means of ensuring the continued participation of these communities in WIPO’s work,” he added. Dr. Idris welcomed this generosity and urged the continued support of member states for the inclusive nature of the IGC, which he said had always been its strength. 

So far, contributions amounting to almost 300,000 Swiss Francs, have been received from four donors, namely, the Christensen Fund, the Swedish International Biodiversity Programme (SwedBio/CBM), the Government of France, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property. Full details are available from WIPO/GRTKF/IC/11/INF/4.  Further generous pledges have been made, providing confidence that the Fund will have a sound financial basis for the future and will continue to provide solid support for participation of indigenous and local communities for future meetings.

Beneficiaries of the Fund are members of indigenous or local communities, or other representatives of customary holders or custodians of traditional knowledge or traditional cultural expressions.  An independent Advisory Board, comprising representatives of WIPO member states and indigenous organizations, reviews applications and makes its recommendations. Applications come from observers accredited to the IGC who represent indigenous and local communities and other customary holders or custodians of traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (TCEs). The Voluntary Fund is structured and administered so that contributions are entirely used to support travel and living expenses necessary to enable participation of indigenous and local community representatives in the sessions of the IGC held in Geneva and other related activities.

The IGC has taken a number of steps to enhance the role of these communities in its work. Over 180 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are now especially accredited to the IGC as observers, the majority of these representing indigenous and local communities or other custodians of TK and TCEs.  A practice has also developed of including representatives of indigenous and local communities on national delegations, with the encouragement of the WIPO General Assembly and the IGC.  The positions of IGC observers are also disseminated through a dedicated website. 

Each IGC session now commences with a panel, chaired by an indigenous representative, which focuses directly on the needs and expectations of these communities concerning protection of their TK and TCEs.  At the eleventh session, the panel was chaired by Mr. Greg Young-Ing of the Opsakwayak Cree Nation, and comprised representatives from the seven geo‑cultural regions recognized by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The panelists explained to the IGC their communities’ experiences and concerns regarding TK, TCEs and genetic resources, and provided recommendations to guide the Committee. 

The current session of the IGC is continuing discussions of core issues for the protection of TK and TCEs, focusing on the fundamental policy challenges that are at the core of the quest for more effective protection of TK and traditional cultural expressions. At its last meeting in December 2006, the IGC agreed upon a new approach to its work on intellectual property and TK and TCEs. These issues cover such questions as definitions of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, the form and scope of protection, and the nature of the beneficiaries. This will be the first systematic multilateral review of these questions, which builds on a rich base of work in the Committee that has drawn on the experience of over 80 countries and many indigenous and local communities. 

With regard to the question of genetic resources, the secretariat has prepared for the IGC’s consideration a working document listing options for continuing discussions or further work, including in the area of the disclosure requirement and alternative proposals for dealing with the relationship between intellectual property and genetic resources; the interface between the patent system and genetic resources; and the intellectual property aspects of access and benefit-sharing contracts.

This is the final working session of the IGC before it reports to the WIPO Assemblies meeting in the autumn. In 2005, WIPO member states renewed the mandate of the IGC for an additional two years, agreeing to accelerate its work in establishing a concrete outcome with a particular focus on the international dimension.

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