The following background papers were initially developed by Call of the Earth Llamado de la Tierra in 2003/2004 to give an overview of key issues in relevant areas at the time. Relevant papers may require updating. To view the full paper, click on the title in the summary below.

Background Papers

  1. Indigenous Peoples & Intellectual Property Policy: The Broad Context
  2. What are the Intellectual Property Related Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Where they are Discussed?
  3. Indigenous Traditional Knowledge for food, agriculture and medicine & Intellectual Property Policy
  4. Indigenous Cultural Expressions & Intellectual Property Policy
  5. Indigenous Human Genetic Resources & Intellectual Property Policy
  6. The Participation of Indigenous Peoples in International Intellectual Property Policy Making
  7. The AB© of Intellectual Property Rights
  8. Important Terms

1. Indigenous Peoples & Intellectual Property Policy: The Broad Context

The impact of intellectual property policy on Indigenous Peoples must be understood in a broad context.

While recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples has improved both internationally and in many national systems, other societal trends have created new issues that affect all people, but that affect Indigenous peoples in particular ways.

2.  What are the Intellectual Property Related Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Where they are Discussed?

The following discussion will highlight the international law and policy fora most relevant to Indigenous cultural resources. This is arranged by instrument and/or organization. It encompasses a discussion of the existing rights of Indigenous Peoples and how these inform current debates.

3.  Indigenous Traditional Knowledge for food, agriculture and medicine & Intellectual Property Policy

Several high profile examples have generated much publicity from the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples medicine.

Indigenous Peoples assert that the appropriation biological resources, without the informed consent culture the resources originate, is misappropriation.

4.  Indigenous Cultural Expressions & Intellectual Property Policy

There are many examples of the misuse and misappropriation of the cultural expressions of Indigenous Peoples.

“Cultural expressions” refers to any manifestations of the culture of an Indigenous People. The term includes, for example, traditional knowledge (including biological knowledge) and practices, music, dance and other performing arts, history and mythology, ceremonies and rituals, designs and symbols, traditional skills, handicrafts and artworks (Dutfield 2000).

The use of Indigenous Peoples cultural expressions by outsiders has implications that can be both cultural and economic, depending on the specific context.

5.  Indigenous Human Genetic Resources & Intellectual Property Policy

The genetic information of Indigenous Peoples is sometimes of interest to scientific researchers, often due to distinct physiological features and historical isolation. In a number of cases, the way in which genetic information has been obtained has led to questioning of whether there was prior informed consent, who now ‘owns’ the information and what it can be used for.

This issue would raise ethical questions of profound consequence in any cultural context however given their frequent status as preferred subjects, it is in many cases Indigenous Peoples who have direct experience of the questions and consequences arising from genetic research.

6.  The Participation of Indigenous Peoples in International Intellectual Property Policy Making

While IP debates relevant to traditional knowledge, cultural expressions and human genetic resources are all about Indigenous Peoples and directly affect their cultural integrity and livelihoods, Indigenous Peoples have only limited participatory rights in the international policy making fora where decisions are made. In some processes, Indigenous Peoples have no rights of participation at all.

7.  The AB© of Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) are monopoly rights that were first justified as providing an incentive for innovation. Whether IPRs do in fact act as an incentive for innovation depends on the particular economic context in which they operate. Whether the impact of intellectual property rights has acceptable social and economic trade offs again can again, only be judged in a particular social and economic context.

8.  Important Terms

The following terms are used throughout these background papers. While they are often used outside this context, the terms when used in other contexts may be used with slightly different meaning.

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