WIPO Member States Extend International Work on Protection of Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Folklore

Geneva, October 2, 2007

Member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have agreed to continue accelerated work on intellectual property (IP) and traditional knowledge, genetic resources and folklore/traditional cultural expressions (TCEs), with a focus on the international dimension. The General Assembly, which is meeting from September 24 to October 3, 2007, extended the mandate of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) for two years. While recognizing the solid work done to date, they have pledged to work towards greater convergence on the issues. 

“Member states have reaffirmed their commitment to forging ahead with efforts to reach international consensus on the protection of traditional knowledge, genetic resources and folklore,” said the Director General of WIPO, Dr. Kamil Idris. He added “The IGC has already provided useful guidance for community, national and regional consultations and legislative initiatives. Its working materials continue directly to help policymakers working towards stronger legal recognition and protection of TK and TCEs. Its work on genetic resources and patent disclosure issues helped define the terms of this crucial current debate. The challenge now is to capitalize on this work in the form of concrete, tangible outcomes at the international level. I hope that member states will build on these efforts and work for a successful conclusion relating to the international dimension.”

This decision by the member states renews the General Assembly’s 2005 directions to the IGC to accelerate its work, and to focus in particular on the international dimension of IP and genetic resources, traditional knowledge (TK), and folklore or traditional cultural expressions (TCEs). The mandate excludes no outcome, including the possible development of an international instrument or instruments in this field without prejudice to the work pursued in other fora.

The Chair of the IGC, Ambassador I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja of Indonesia, observed that the IGC had “helped promote partnerships for capacity-building and South-South cooperation initiatives to strengthen the practical recognition and protection of TK and TCEs in the intellectual property system.” He expressed hope that the “very solid foundation of substantive work, and the enhanced scope of participation and dialogue that has been achieved, will together lead to concrete outcomes in the coming biennium.” Reporting on the IGC’s work to the Assembly, the IGC Chairman highlighted participation and inclusiveness in the Committee’s work, the substance of the IGC outcomes, and the capacity building dimension, commenting that the Voluntary Fund had “brought fresh voices and ideas to the IGC.” The WIPO Voluntary Fund directly supports the participation of indigenous and local communities in the work of the IGC.

Delegates urged the Committee to work towards a substantive conclusion in the coming two years. Delegates drew attention to the need to build on the existing work of the IGC, and highlighted the importance of the IGC coming to grips with the complex and sensitive issues before it. While stressing the need not to prejudice other multilateral outcomes, many called for a binding international legal instrument as the only fully effective response to the global phenomenon of misappropriation and misuse of TK and TCEs for industrial and commercial use.

In welcoming the successful launch of the WIPO Voluntary Fund, the Assembly highlighted the most recent concrete example of WIPO’s efforts to ensure an active voice in WIPO for indigenous and local communities, as the principal holders of TK, TCEs and genetic resources. The Fund was formally established in 2005, and has already supported many indigenous participants in the work of the IGC. It has attracted a high level of contributions which will translate into sustainable support for participation of a wide spectrum of indigenous and local communities in the IGC’s future work under its renewed mandate.


The IGC, which was established by the WIPO General Assembly in October 2000, is expected to progress towards a shared international understanding of how best to protect TK and TCEs against misappropriation and misuse. A key aim is to support the holders and custodians of TK and TCEs in exercising greater authority over how these vital elements of their cultural identity are used and disseminated, and to reinforce the legal aspects of respect and recognition. Many participants in the deliberations of the IGC have called for specific international legal instruments to achieve this. WIPO member states are yet to reach consensus on the exact format and status of the outcome of this work. But the IGC process has developed draft objectives and principles for the legal protection of TK and TCEs against misappropriation and misuse. These draft provisions are currently the subject of active, focused consultations in many countries, and as reported to the General Assembly, are already helping to catalyze dialogue and development of practical and legal measures at the community, national and regional levels.

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