Geneva, 03 Oct 2005
Member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have agreed to continue accelerated work on intellectual property (IP) and traditional knowledge, genetic resources and folklore, with a focus on the international dimension. The General Assembly extended the mandate of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) for two years.
This decision renews the General Assembly's 2003 directions to the IGC to accelerate its work, and to focus in particular on the international dimension of IP and genetic resources, traditional knowledge (TK), and folklore or traditional cultural expressions (TCEs). The mandate excludes no outcome, including the possible development of an international instrument or instruments in this field. This latest decision gives effect to the IGC's own recent conclusion that its work on TCEs and TK had 'broad support' and its recommendation that its mandate should be extended for that work to continue.
Delegates welcomed progress in the work of the IGC and called for further progress in developing international solutions in this area. A number of countries highlighted that the working documents of the IGC had already provided useful guidance for community, national and regional consultations, and had directly helped policymakers in working towards stronger legal recognition and protection of TK and TCEs.
Separately, member states also agreed to transmit to the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) a WIPO study on the relationship between disclosure requirements within the IP system and genetic resources and associated TK. Disclosure of the origin, source and/or legal provenance of the genetic resources and TK that are used in claimed inventions is a cross-cutting issue under consideration in several international forums within and beyond WIPO. The study was prepared in response to an invitation by the CBD COP as a follow-up to a previous WIPO technical study also commissioned by the CBD. Based on inputs from a diverse array of member states, civil society and industry NGOs, the study reviews operational and policy issues relating to disclosure mechanisms and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources. This is a further step in a growing program of cooperation between the CBD and WIPO, aimed at considering how to harness the IP system to promote CBD goals such as equitable sharing of benefits. The study will be transmitted to the CBD for consideration at the next COP, to be held in Curitiba, Brazil in March 2006.
The IGC is expected to progress towards a shared international understanding of how best to protect TK and TCEs against misappropriation and misuse. A key aim is to support the holders and custodians of TK and TCEs in exercising greater authority over how these vital elements of their cultural identity are used and disseminated, and to reinforce the legal aspects of respect and recognition. Many participants in the debate have called for specific international legal instruments to achieve this. WIPO Member states are yet to reach consensus on the exact format and status of the outcome of this work. But the IGC process developed draft objectives and principles for the legal protection of TK and TCEs against misappropriation and misuse. These draft provisions are currently the subject of active, focused consultations in many countries, and as reported to the Assembly, are already helping to catalyze dialogue and development of practical and legal measures at the community, national and regional levels. Further background on the recent work of the IGC is provided in press update WIPO/UPD/2005/251.
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The General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has agreed to establish a Voluntary Fund for Indigenous and Local Communities. This Fund will directly support the participation of representatives of these communities in the work of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). The voice and experience of indigenous and local communities have been a vital contribution to the IGC's work. This latest outcome follows past steps to promote the participation of indigenous and local communities in WIPO's work, and is expected to strengthen their role further. The lack of a specific funding mechanism has been a key concern of indigenous and local community representatives in past IGC sessions.
Beneficiaries from the fund will be members of indigenous or local communities, or other representatives of customary holders or custodians of traditional knowledge or traditional cultural expressions. They are to be selected from already accredited IGC observers by an Advisory Board appointed from WIPO member states and indigenous observers. The Voluntary Fund will be devoted entirely to funding their travel and living expenses to enable them to take part in the sessions of the IGC held in Geneva and other related activities. Immediate steps will be taken to put the Fund into operation and to call for voluntary contributions so that it is available to provide practical support as soon as possible.
This new step builds on past encouragement by the WIPO General Assembly of the participation of indigenous and local communities in WIPO's work in the area of TK, TCEs and genetic resources. The IGC itself has taken a series of steps to enhance the role of these communities in its work. Over 120 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are now especially accredited to the IGC as observers, many representing indigenous and local communities or other custodians of TK and TCEs. A practice has also developed of including representatives of indigenous and local communities on national delegations, with the encouragement of the General Assembly and the IGC. Each IGC session now commences with a panel, chaired by an indigenous representative, that focuses directly on the needs and expectations of these communities concerning protection of their TK and TCEs. The positions of IGC observers are also disseminated through a dedicated website.
Accredited indigenous and local communities have contributed directly to the development of the IGC's working documents, including through a recent commentary process which progressed draft objectives and principles intended to guide and shape the protection of TK and TCEs against misappropriation and misuse. This work has been reinforced further by case studies on the protection of TCEs and TK, including the 'Minding Culture' series authored by indigenous lawyer Terri Janke.