Montana Model United Nations 2001
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World Intellectual Property Organization


Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore

As the title suggests, this topic explores issues surrounding, well, genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore and how they relate to intellectual property rights.

WIPO has actually been involved with some of these issues since 1979, but certain topics such as the genetic resource issue are looming larger with today's possibility of sequencing large amounts of DNA.

As developing nations worry about the growing IP chasm, they, along with indigenous peoples, worry about the potential of becoming an IP mining site.

Genetic Resources

Genetic resources issue as they relate to IP refer to the lack of compensation by foreign entities to populations in developing nations, when biological resources are extracted.

For example, according to an article by the International Development Research Center [] in Canada, there are some 35,000 species of plants in developing nations believed to have some medicinal value. The concern is that developing nations are being subjected to a new wave of colonialism by pharmaceutical corporations. The same article claims that in the early 1990's plant resources extracted from developing nations were alone worth billion of dollars to pharmaceutical companies.

Traditional Knowledge and Folklore

Just as genetic resource issues refer to extraction of biological material and knowledge from developing nations, traditional knowledge and folklore issues refer to the extraction of intellectual and cultural resources from developing nations.

Traditional knowledge and folklore are seen as vital to the cultural identity of indigenous peoples. For this reason, indigenous peoples often view profiting from traditional knowledge to be exploitive.

Protecting traditional knowledge is less clear than protecting established intellectual property. As you know, copyrights on artistic or creative works generally extend 50 years past the death of the creator. What about works that may exist only in an oral tradition that have been passed down and evolving for much longer than 50 years. Who gets credit?
Who has the authority to sell rights to these ideas?

Other Resources
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