Member States Move Forward with Work on New Global Intellectual Property Issues

Geneva, May 4, 2001
Press Updates UPD/2001/130

Member states of the World Intellectual Property Organizations (WIPO) wrapped up the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore by supporting further work to advance discussions on the intellectual property aspects of these assets.

Mr. Francis Gurry, WIPO Assistant Director General, described this as an "historic consensus" and said this signifies "a new outreach of the intellectual property system to look at the possible use of intellectual property in different ways."

"One result of this first meeting was a fairly clear expression on the part of all of our member states that we should address this particular issue very much in conjunction with the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and of course, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its Commission on Genetic Resources. So that any work we do will be very much consistent with and complementary to the work that is being done by the CBD secretariat and the FAO," Mr. Gurry told a news conference after the meeting. He added, "The mandate that we received from our member states as a result of this meeting was that we should work to develop model intellectual property contractual clauses that can deal with access to genetic resources and benefit sharing."

On traditional knowledge and folklore, the Committee agreed that there are certain conceptual problems with the application of the current intellectual property system. That is, the intellectual property system generally has a date of creation, a limited duration of protection, and an identifiable author. Traditional knowledge, generally, is a living body of knowledge which is supplemented and replenished with time. It lacks a precise date of creation and there is no individuality, but rather collectivity, in authorship.

During the meeting, member states expressed support for work to advance an understanding of how intellectual property can be used to protect traditional knowledge. In this respect, a start would be to identify those components of traditional knowledge that might be protected. Participants also asked the secretariat to gather empirical information on the extent to which the traditional intellectual property system is sufficient in addressing this form of knowledge.

Mr. Gurry, who oversees WIPO's work relating to global intellectual property issues, said the results of the meeting are encouraging. "As a start in an international process, it is actually a very positive result because, first of all, it really signifies a desire to view the knowledge economy in a comprehensive and inclusive manner, which includes traditional knowledge. That is the real significance of the advance because the intellectual property system is, of course, an instrument of economic policy and applying it to traditional knowledge means that you are recognizing the economic contribution of traditional knowledge as well as its cultural contribution." He further noted "Secondly, I think the view taken by member states that we have to look at the definition of elements first of all to be able to proceed intellectually with solving the conceptual problems confronting us with collectivity of authorship and a living body of knowledge without a specific starting date and a specific ending point in its economic life is entirely correct. And thirdly, it can only be of great use to have information on the possible limitations of the current system."

Mr. Gurry said WIPO will submit to the next meeting of the IGC, which will take place in the last quarter of 2001, model intellectual property contractual clauses for access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. He said this will provide an opportunity to develop best practices which can use the intellectual property system as a means of benefit sharing.

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