UN Nears Landmark Deal on Combatting Biopiracy

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Geneva: The Fight Against Biopiracy

The fight against biopiracy, the act of plundering genetic resources and the traditional knowledge surrounding them, is gaining momentum on the international stage. Negotiations for an international treaty to address this issue are currently underway in Geneva, Switzerland. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), with its more than 190 member states, is leading the charge in finalizing this landmark agreement.

A Challenging Path Ahead

WIPO’s head, Daren Tang, has warned that the negotiations will not be easy. The diplomatic conference in Geneva brings together representatives from around the world, and reaching a consensus on the treaty will require extensive discussions and compromises. However, Tang remains optimistic, stating that countries are on the cusp of a truly landmark agreement.

Protecting Genetic Resources and Traditional Knowledge

The draft treaty text outlines several key provisions that aim to tackle biopiracy effectively. One such provision requires patent applicants to disclose the country of origin of the genetic resources used in their inventions, as well as the indigenous people who provided the associated traditional knowledge. This crucial step ensures that those who hold the knowledge and resources are acknowledged and can benefit from their use.

The Impact on Various Industries

The consequences of biopiracy extend far beyond the act itself. Natural genetic resources found in medicinal plants, agricultural crops, and animal breeds are increasingly being utilized by companies in various industries, including cosmetics, seeds, medicines, biotechnology, and food supplements. While these resources cannot be directly protected as international property, the inventions developed using them can be patented. However, the lack of mandatory disclosure regarding the origin of innovations has raised concerns among developing countries. They fear that patents are being granted without proper consent from indigenous communities or for existing inventions, leading to lengthy legal battles.

Striking a Balance

The proposed treaty has garnered both support and opposition. Proponents argue that an additional disclosure requirement would enhance legal certainty, transparency, and efficiency in the patent system. They believe that this measure will ensure knowledge and resources are used with the permission of the countries and communities from which they originate, enabling them to benefit from resulting inventions. On the other hand, opponents fear that the treaty may hinder innovation.

Addressing Key Points of Contention

While progress is being made, disagreements persist on certain aspects of the treaty. One area of contention revolves around the establishment of sanctions and the conditions for revoking patents. Finding common ground on these issues is crucial for the successful implementation of the treaty. Experts involved in the negotiations have narrowed down the text significantly to facilitate potential compromises. Viviana Muñoz Tellez, an expert from the South Center, an intergovernmental think tank representing the interests of developing countries, emphasizes the symbolic value of the proposed treaty. It marks the first time that traditional knowledge will be referenced in an intellectual property instrument.

In conclusion, the ongoing negotiations in Geneva represent a significant step towards combating biopiracy and protecting genetic resources and traditional knowledge. While challenges lie ahead, the potential benefits of a comprehensive international treaty are immense. By ensuring that countries and communities have a say in the use of their resources and knowledge, the treaty aims to strike a balance between incentivizing innovation and safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Source: The Manila Times

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