Education International
Education International

WIPO members endorse talks on protection of traditional knowledge

published 12 November 2009 updated 12 November 2009

Following a year-long stalemate, members of the World Intellectual Property Office endorsed a new round of negotiations to develop an international agreement on the protection of traditional knowledge and genetic resources.

Attempts to reach an agreement within WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore on a mandate for negotiations had stalled over differences between African countries which have pressed for a legally-binding instrument, and the United States which opposes a binding treaty.

Many developing countries argue that a legally binding treaty is needed to prevent the misappropriation and patenting by companies in the developed world of traditional knowledge and practices.

However, the United States and other developed countries are opposed to a binding treaty and argue that it would run contrary to WIPO’s development agenda of preserving and protecting the public domain. They say a binding treaty could result in what is now freely available knowledge being restricted in the future by property rights.

WIPO members, meeting in Geneva in late September, reached a compromise on the impasse by omitting reference to a “binding agreement” and instead giving the IGC the “objective of reaching agreement on a text of an international legal instrument (or instruments) which will ensure the effective protection” of genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and folklore.

Negotiators will meet four times over the next two years with the goal of reaching a final agreement by September 2011.

Given that the issues discussed at WIPO increasingly have a direct bearing on the education sector, Education International earlier this year applied to be recognized as an observer NGO. Meeting in October, Member States of WIPO approved EI’s application.