Wednesday, September 23, 2009
BRIEF: Protecting Traditional Knowledge from the Grassroots Up
A recent brief by the International Institute for Environment and Development examines the relationship between customary law, traditional knowledge, and intellectual property rights.
For indigenous peoples round the world, traditional knowledge based on natural
resources such as medicinal herbs forms the core of culture and identity. But this
wealth of knowledge is under pressure. Indigenous communities are increasingly
vulnerable to eviction, environmental degradation and outside interests eager to
monopolise control over their traditional resources. Intellectual property rights such
as patents, however, sit uneasily with traditional knowledge. Their commercial focus
wars with fundamental indigenous principles such as resource access and sharing.
Local customary law offers a better fit, and findings in China, India, Kenya, Panama
and Peru show how this pairing can work in practice. The research has identified
common elements, and key differences, in customary law that should be informing
policy on traditional knowledge and genetic resources.