WIPO and UNEP Launch Joint Publication on Benefit Sharing

Geneva, November 1, 2004
Press Releases PR/2004/399

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched on November 1, 2004 a study that identifies and explores the role of intellectual property rights in the sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. The study was presented by Mr. Klaus Töpfer, UNEP Executive Director and Mr. Francis Gurry, WIPO Deputy Director General at the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) which is meeting in Geneva from November 1 to 5, 2004.

Mr. Töpfer welcomed the launch of the study and underlined the importance of WIPO's collaboration with UNEP on issues relevant to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). He said these included the development of guidelines for contractual agreements on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, as well as the development of practical and low-cost mechanisms to implement intellectual property-based benefit sharing arrangements under multilateral systems for access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. He said these were an extremely important part of maintaining the stability of biodiversity and integrating it into development processes.

Mr. Gurry said that while UNEP played a leading and extensive role in protecting the environment and biological diversity, WIPO had a specific role to play in exploring ways in which the intellectual property system can contribute to attaining those important goals. Mr. Gurry thanked Professor Anil Gupta, founder of the Honeybee network which groups more than 1500 grassroots organizations concerned with traditional knowledge in India, for his major contribution to the publication.

The study highlights the need, when genetic resources are first accessed, for a clear understanding of intellectual property issues. Agreement on how intellectual property derived from access is used and how the benefits are shared is an important part of the exercise of prior informed consent, and an important, practical way of ensuring that access and benefit-sharing is fruitful, equitable and mutually agreeable, and becomes a true partnership between custodian and user of the genetic resource. The study investigates the potential for achieving this, but underscores the practical and legal obstacles that traditional communities have encountered in the three cases discussed in the study.

Access and benefit-sharing systems aim to promote scientific and technological breakthroughs from the use of microbial, plant and animal genetic resources, while at the same time recognizing the contributions and rights of those who cultivated and preserved these resources, or have come to understand their uses. The judicious and effective use of the intellectual property system has a vital role in achieving the goals of equitable access and benefit-sharing. The patent system, for example, recognizes innovations based on genetic resources and provides a framework for investment in the development of valuable new products and processes. It therefore offers the potential to yield the desired benefits from access to genetic resources. Making sure that these benefits are shared equitably with the custodians of genetic resources and traditional knowledge is a key challenge.

A pre-publication version of the study was made available by UNEP and WIPO to the Ministerial Meeting at the Seventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD in Kuala Lumpur in February 2004.

The publication (No. 769(E)) which includes detailed case studies from Nigeria, Mali and India, may be ordered from the WIPO Electronic Bookshop at https://www.wipo.int/ebookshop.

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