On Biopiracy and Patenting of Indigenous Resources and Knowledge

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) ? While bio-piracy looms as a continuing threat to indigenous communities, an official of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPO Philippines) – the lead agency in the country mandated to implement state policies on intellectual property – reveals that the issue of intellectual property rights (IPR) in relation to indigenous knowledge and resources remains complicated.

IPO Philippines’s Director-General Adrian Cristobal admits IPR “is a complicated issue” for indigenous peoples, referring to the complex and indefinite provisions for patenting indigenous knowledge and resources. “Traditional designs are difficult to protect in our society nowadays,” he said.

One thing that can be done toward patenting indigenous designs and other resources or innovations is the use of “collective trademarks,” said Cristobal. Collective trademark involves a group of people from the community registering the trademark. However, the problem with this case, he added, is the question of how the whole community could equally benefit from their designs or resources.

Since ideas are now assets that can bring individual wealth and fame, and since “we are in a knowledge-based society,” Cristobal said, IPR is important to protect creative works and innovations as well as ideas. With this, IPO Philippines has established a satellite office at the office of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) here to cater to small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs), universities, investors and artists of the Cordilleras, as well as of Regions I and II.

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Bengwayan of the Benguet State University (BSU) and of the organization Pine Tree, says bio-piracy affects indigenous peoples in such a way that indigenous people are forced to pay royalties on products that are based on their own biological resources and knowledge.

In addition, he sees the idea of patenting indigenous resources and knowledge as far-fetched because of financial constraints on the part of the indigenous peoples since patenting is expensive.

Also, Bengwayan said, bio-piracy, which is the “patenting of biological and or genetic resources and traditional knowledge by people, governments, corporations without consulting, acknowledging and compensating the source” is “unethical and illegal” because the financial interests of these people, governments, corporations are given priority over the needs of indigenous communities, who view biological resources as necessary to their survival.

He said the indigenous ways of resource-conservation help mitigate global warming. “Unfortunately, in spite of centuries of practising these environment-friendly techniques, they have not been appropriately recognized.” (Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat)

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