Message from WIPO DG Gurry on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

August 9, 2018

It is with deep appreciation and respect that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) joins today in celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Director General Francis Gurry
(photo: WIPO).

Last year marked the tenth Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“the Declaration”).  The right of Indigenous Peoples to “maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over [their] cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions” that is provided for in Article 31 of the Declaration, along with its other relevant provisions, remains a reference of primary importance for the WIPO activities and resources in support of Indigenous Peoples and the protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.

WIPO aims to encourage and empower Indigenous Peoples to use intellectual property strategically, if they so wish, in order to protect their traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions for their own benefit and in line with their specific social, cultural and developmental needs.  In pursuing this objective, awareness-raising activities that reach out to Indigenous Peoples include practical workshops, distance learning courses and trainings and the dissemination of briefs and practical guides.

The theme for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – “Indigenous Peoples Migration and Movement” - is of relevance for WIPO.  Migrating and moving Indigenous Peoples face challenges that are particularly acute in preserving and protecting their traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.  WIPO’s engagement in empowering Indigenous Peoples to use intellectual property tools in line with their social and cultural needs may contribute to the well-being and revitalization of those Indigenous Peoples, who may be in critical need for protection, by helping them adjust to changing circumstances.

WIPO’s new publication – Documenting Traditional Knowledge – A Toolkit presents handy checklists and practical recommendations that would help ensure that documentation projects take into account and address intellectual property issues effectively and in due consideration of the Indigenous Peoples’ consent and involvement at each step of such projects.  Together with a new Guide to Intellectual Property Issues in Access and Benefit‑sharing Agreements and the 2017 WIPO publication Protect and Promote Your Culture. A Practical Guide to Intellectual Property for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, the Toolkit completes a rich set of concise and accessible resources that are relevant to Indigenous Peoples’ needs and interests.

The Adventures of the Yakuanoi – Navigating Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Property, launched this year, is a new animation telling the story of the Yakuanoi, a fictional Indigenous People that successfully navigates among issues and opportunities that arise when its traditional knowledge interacts with intellectual property.

In its outreach, WIPO endeavors to make its resources as accessible as possible.  All the mentioned publications, as many others, as well as the short animation, can be freely downloaded from WIPO’s website.  In line with WIPO’s Open Access Policy, they can also be reproduced, used and translated in any language, including indigenous languages, under Creative Commons licences.  The WIPO Secretariat is available to provide the information and appropriate technical support that interested users might need in this regard.

Scholarships have been granted to two young indigenous persons in support of their participation in the 2018 WIPO-UNIGE Summer School on Intellectual Property.  The fruitful Indigenous Fellowship program continues:  WIPO has recently issued a “call for expressions of interest” with the view to selecting a new Fellow to start in January 2019 at the latest.

WIPO is committed to developing a balanced and effective international intellectual property system for the benefit of all, including Indigenous Peoples.  Under its renewed mandate for 2018-2019, the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (the IGC) continues to expedite its work, with the objective of reaching an agreement on an international legal agreement(s) relating to intellectual property which will ensure the balanced and effective protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.

In line with Article 18 of the Declaration, a set of measures substantially facilitates the effective and direct participation of Indigenous Peoples in the IGC’s work.  Indigenous Peoples’ representatives have been part of the Ad hoc Expert Group on Genetic Resources that met on June 24, 2018 in advance of the 36th Session of the IGC and directly participate in the discussions taking place in IGC-related informal groups of a more restricted format.  The WIPO Voluntary Fund for Accredited Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities has been able to finance indigenous participation until the most recent IGG session.  I would like to join the vibrant calls that are being made to have the Fund replenished with fresh donations.

WIPO looks forward to continue collaborating fruitfully with Indigenous Peoples in support of their specific interests and well-being and to continuing our excellent cooperation with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.