UNU Report: End Catch-22 for Indigenous People

United Nations University

19 Feb 2004

To decide whether a new product seeking patent protection is novel or based upon traditional knowledge, officials require free access to indigenous secrets.  Several countries have inventoried traditional knowledge in publicly-accessible databases for this purpose as a way to prevent its commercial theft.

In many indigenous cultures, however, traditional knowledge is highly guarded, passed down from one generation to the next through codes of conduct and customary law, frequently including initiation rights as a prerequisite for receiving the information.

Obliging indigenous people to offer public documentation of TK for intellectual property protection purposes is insensitive to centuries-old cultural practice in many places and may lead to injustice, according to a UNU report.

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