WIPO Director General Welcomes Launch of New Funding Mechanism for Indigenous and Local Communities

Geneva, April 27, 2006
Press Releases PR/2006/446

Geneva, April 27, 2006


The Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Dr. Kamil Idris, has welcomed steps by the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Folklore (IGC) meeting in Geneva from April 24 to 28, 2006, to enhance and facilitate the participation of indigenous peoples in its work.

The IGC appointed a nine-person advisory board responsible for the administration of the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous and Local Communities established by WIPO member states in autumn 2005 to support participation of indigenous and local communities in the IGC and to enhance the work of that Committee. The Swedish International Biodiversity Programme (‘SwedBio') and the Government of France announced contributions of 500,000 Swedish Krona and 20,000 Euros respectively.

"This is a very welcome and positive step to further enhance the participation of representatives of indigenous and local communities in the important work of the IGC" said Dr. Idris. "This mechanism meets a long-standing need to provide practical support for representatives of these communities to participate actively in the process of establishing international standards to prevent the misappropriation of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions," he added. Dr. Idris said, "The voice and experience of indigenous and local communities have been a vital contribution to the IGC's work and an inclusive approach has been a priority for WIPO." Dr. Idris thanked SwedBio and the Government of France for their generous contributions and encouraged other donors to support the Fund.

This latest development builds on a series of initiatives to improve participation of the holders and custodians of traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) in the work of WIPO. WIPO's current program in this area was launched in 1998 with a series of consultations with indigenous and local communities in over 60 locations around the world, culminating in a comprehensive report on the needs and expectations of TK holders that still guides WIPO's work. The IGC has specially accredited over 130 observers to participate in its work, the majority representing indigenous and local communities and other TK holders. Each IGC session begins with a panel session, chaired by an indigenous or local community representative, when representatives from diverse communities explain to the Committee their experiences and concerns regarding TCEs, TK and related genetic resources.

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. This week's meeting will begin to consider the subject matter, focus and level of detail the outcome should have. The meeting will further examine the interplay between the international dimension and national legal systems, and the appropriate relationship with other international instruments and processes. The IGC's mandate clarifies that the IGC's work should not prejudice the work of other international fora. Equally, however, other international processes are increasingly making use of the IGC's outcomes and its work in progress.

The IGC's work has shown that appropriate protection of TK and TCEs, in accordance with the wishes and interests of their traditional custodians, is a central area for IP law, both in current practice and in policy-making and norm-building. There is broad agreement on the need for appropriate protection of TK and TCEs, including empowerment of traditional holders to make effective use of legal tools, but as yet there is no agreed common position on the formal legal status of the outcome of the IGC process.

Discussions are based on two mature drafts of revisions outlining objectives and principles for the protection of TK and TCEs (also termed ‘expressions of folklore'). Formulated on the basis of extensive discussions within the IGC over eight past sessions, the experience of more than 70 countries and an inter-sessional commentary process, the draft provisions outline possible policy and legal space for protection against misappropriation and misuse and help define the legal measures for this protection. The draft provisions provide substantive legal and policy material that could contribute to agreed outcomes from the Committees' work. Concentrating on the substance and content of protection, they are neutral as to legal status or format and thus can be used as bases for national or regional laws, and international outcomes such as declarations or resolutions, recommendations, model provisions, treaties or other form of international instruments. Even in their various draft forms, these texts have already been used by a number of countries, several regions, and other international organizations as a benchmark for legislation and international policy in this area.

This week's IGC will continue to build on the extensive work it has already achieved in better defining the link between intellectual property and the issues covered by the Committee. While earlier work focused on conceptual aspects, many member states now stress the need to formulate concrete measures and identify appropriate mechanisms to establish an international legal framework for the protection of intellectual property aspects of TCEs (or expressions of folklore), TK and associated genetic resources.

The approach to protection that is being explored would apply for TK and TCEs which are the products of intellectual activity, whether communal or individual, and which are characteristic of a community's cultural and social identity and cultural heritage. The approach would in particular benefit those communities in whom the custody of the TK or TCEs has been entrusted under customary law and who still maintain, use or develop them.

The IGC will also consider further steps to improve the recognition of traditional knowledge in the patent examination process, including practical measures such as improved information systems and guidelines for patent offices.

With regard to genetic resources, delegates will consider the state of play with regard to the question of patent disclosure requirements relevant to genetic resources and traditional knowledge and also intellectual property aspects of access to and equitable benefit-sharing from genetic resources.

Details of the operation of the Voluntary Fund are available at https://www.wipo.int/tk/en/ngoparticipation/voluntary_fund/index.html. General information on the IGC and its working documents are available at: https://www.wipo.int/tk/en/igc/

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