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WIPO Committee Negotiates Texts on Traditional Knowledge, Cultural Expressions, Genetic Resources

13 May 2011: The 18th session of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) resulted in a single negotiating text on each of the three items referred to in the IGC's mandate: traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources. The session took place from 9-13 May 2011, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Chaired by Ambassador Philip Owade (Kenya), the session followed two Intersessional Working Groups (IWGs) in February and March 2011 that had addressed traditional knowledge and genetic resources, respectively.

On traditional knowledge, the IWG had developed a text of articles on the protection of traditional knowledge. The IGC accepted this text as the basis for negotiations and, after a lengthy plenary discussion on the text, broke into an informal, open-ended drafting group to reduce the number of options, especially where differences were largely a matter of drafting. The streamlined text developed by the drafting group was noted by the IGC and transmitted to its next meeting, scheduled for 18-22 July 2011. The text addresses questions such as a definition of traditional knowledge, beneficiaries of protection and the scope of rights to be granted in traditional knowledge and how they would be managed and enforced.

On genetic resources, the IWG had developed a draft text on objectives and principles on the relationship between intellectual property and genetic resources. The IGC accepted that text as a basis for its ongoing work, and an open-ended informal drafting group was established to refine and streamline the text, especially to reduce the number of options where these were largely a matter of drafting. The drafting group made progress in merging several options, and the modified objectives and principles were noted by the IGC and transmitted to its next session. The objectives and principles on intellectual property and genetic resources deal with conditions for access to and use of genetic resources, the prevention of erroneous patents, information systems to enable patent offices to make proper decisions in granting patents, the relationship between intellectual property and other relevant international agreements and processes, and the role of the intellectual property system in relation to genetic resources. These are complemented by options for future work, including a proposed mandatory disclosure requirement, defensive databases and intellectual property clauses in mutually agreed terms for access and equitable benefit-sharing.

Another open-ended informal drafting group was established to streamline the current text of articles on traditional cultural expressions. The modified text was noted by the IGC in plenary and transmitted to its next session.

According to observers, the IGC's negotiations were marked by considerable disagreement over the negotiating process and the participation of indigenous peoples, as well as the proposed mandatory requirements for disclosure of origin of genetic resources in patent applications.

The next session of the IGC is the last one before WIPO's General Assembly, which will decide, in turn, on convening a diplomatic conference. It also remains to be decided whether any instrument produced would be legally binding. [WIPO Press Release] [IISD RS Sources]