Experts Discuss Traditional Knowledge and the Intellectual Property System

Geneva, November 2, 1999
Press Releases PR/1999/195

In the course of a two-day Roundtable from November 1 and 2, 1999, organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), traditional knowledge practitioners, and representatives of governments, research institutes, industry and academia addressed the role of the intellectual property system in protecting traditional knowledge. Some 150 participants from all regions of the world contributed to the success of this two-day meeting.

Discussions focused on intellectual property aspects of traditional knowledge and, in particular, addressed issues such as the definition, nature, value, ownership, use and protection of traditional knowledge. As yet, there is no agreed definition of traditional knowledge, but it includes traditional medicinal, agricultural and ecological knowledge, as well as traditional music, stories and poems, dance, design, and sculpture. Following an overview of WIPO's past and future activities in the area of intellectual property and traditional knowledge, a panel of experts highlighted the challenges in using existing intellectual property protection systems to protect traditional knowledge. A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as representatives of holders of traditional knowledge underlined the need to develop appropriate protection for traditional knowledge.

Two case studies were presented by government representatives from the Philippines and Peru. These examples drew attention to useful lessons and experiences that had been gained in implementing systems of sui generis protection of traditional knowledge at the national level. A number of WIPO member States expressed their views on the protection of traditional knowledge and, in view of its interdisciplinary nature, underlined the need to coordinate activities in this area with other international organizations.

Participants agreed that WIPO is an appropriate forum to continue to explore a possible legal framework that combines intellectual property with the social, cultural and economic aspirations of holders of traditional knowledge. Such a framework would fully recognize the relevance of intellectual property protection and the contribution that the intellectual property system may make to protecting traditional knowledge.

For further details, please contact Mr. Richard Owens, Director, Global Intellectual Property Issues Division at WIPO: