WIPO Concludes New Treaty to Protect Genetic Resources, Traditional knowledge; India Plays key Role

The new treaty was adopted on May 24 at the WIPO headquarters in Geneva after 192 countries and 86 observers participated
Intellectual Property
Intellectual Property

Members of Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have concluded an agreement under which it will be mandatory for patent applicants to disclose country of origin or source of genetic resources if the claimed invention is based on those materials or associated traditional knowledge.

The treaty will provide additional protection for Indian genetic resources and traditional knowledge. Although these are currently protected within India, they are prone to misappropriation in countries, which do not have disclosure obligations.

The current patent legislation does not have a mandatory provision requiring patent applicants to disclose the country of origin or source in case where the invention is based on genetic resources.

At present, only 35 countries have some form of disclosure obligations, most of which are not mandatory and do not have appropriate sanctions or remedies in place for effective implementation. 

The new treaty was adopted on May 24 at the WIPO headquarters in Geneva after 192 countries and 86 observers participated in the two-week negotiations from May 13-24 at a Diplomatic Conference. 

This treaty will require contracting parties, including the developed world, to bring changes in their existing legal framework for enforcing disclosure of origin obligations on patent applicants. 

Genetic resources (GRs) are present in things like medicinal plants, agricultural crops, and animal breeds. While genetic resources themselves cannot be directly protected as intellectual property, inventions developed using them can, most often through a patent.

Some genetic resources are also associated with traditional knowledge (ATK) through their use and conservation by indigenous peoples as well as local communities, often over generations. This knowledge is sometimes used in scientific research and, as such, may contribute to the development of a protected invention.

The WIPO treaty on "intellectual property, genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge" is a significant win for countries of the global South and for India, which is a hub of biodiversity hotspots with abundance of traditional knowledge, and wisdom. 

"The treaty also marks a big win for India and the global south which has for long been a proponent of this instrument. For the first time the system of knowledge and wisdom which have supported economies, societies and cultures for centuries are now inscribed into the global IP (intellectual property) system," the official said.

For the first time, the connection between local communities and their GRs and ATK is recognised in the global IP community.

"These are historic achievements long championed by India as a provider of traditional knowledge and wisdom and repository of biodiversity," the official said, adding that after two decades of negotiations, this treaty has been adopted at the multilateral fora, with a consensus among more than 150 countries.

Most of the developed countries generate IP by using these resources and knowledge for research and innovation.

"The treaty on ratification and entry into force will require contracting parties to put in place, mandatory disclosure obligations for patent applicants to disclose the country of origin or source of the genetic resources when the claimed invention is based on genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge," the official said.

By creating global standards on disclosure of origin obligations, the official said, this agreement creates an unprecedented framework within the IP system for provider countries of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

"This treaty imposes a higher standard of obligation on the applicant than in the current patent act and therefore changes would have to be introduced in the Patent act to introduce these obligations to comply with the treaty when India ratifies this treaty," another official said.

The official added that through this treaty, for the first time, traditional knowledge and genetic resources are formally recognised within the global intellectual property system. 

The WIPO is the global forum for IP services, policy, information and cooperation. It is a self-funding agency of the United Nations, with 193 member states. 

The members include both developing and developed nations like India, Italy, Israel, Aregbrtina, Austria, Bhutan, Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, the US and the UK.

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