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WIPO conference passes instrument on genetic resources and associated Traditional Knowledge

By: Adam Shul

After more than 20 years of negotiations and planning, and important milestone has been reached in the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). In the early hours of last Friday Morning, WIPO member states voted to approve an international legal instrument relating to Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, and Traditional Knowledges associated with Genetic Resources.

WIPO is a UN agency that provides a global forum for Intellectual Property services, policy, information and cooperation. In 2001, WIPO established the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). The IGC oversees negotiating treaties to protect traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, and genetic resources in relation to IP, and by extension ICIP.

From May 13-24 in 2024, the WIPO IGC held a diplomatic conference in Geneva as part of final negotiations that hoped to establish an international treaty on genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. The treaty aimed to “enhance the efficacy, transparency and quality of the patent system”, and “prevent patents from being granted erroneously for inventions that are not novel or inventive with regard to genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources”.

A central element of the treaty is a mandatory disclosure requirement for patents relating to genetic resources and their associated traditional knowledge. When innovators file their patent application, they will have to disclose the country of origin or the source of the genetic resource if their invention is materially/directly based on that genetic resource.

If the invention is materially/directly based on traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, the innovator would have to disclose the Indigenous Peoples or local community that provided such knowledge or its source.

The patent disclosure requirement essentially creates an internationally agreed-upon measure to ensure non-Indigenous people and companies do not patent ideas or methods that are not theirs to claim, and additionally acknowledges that ICIP is held within the community that traditionally engaged in the method.

Solicitor Director Dr. Terri Janke travelled to Geneva as a special adviser to Australia’s Ambassador to First Nations Peoples, Justin Mohamed. She was a part of the Australian delegation and the Indigenous Caucus. The successful outcome of the conference reflects the important steps the international community is making towards recognising the deep and profound knowledge held by Indigenous Peoples.


Image Description: Terri Janke with members of the Australian Delegation at the WIPO IGC conference in Geneva.

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