United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Research Paper 130, April 2021

Misappropriation of Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge: Challenges Posed by Intellectual Property and Genetic Sequence Information

By Nirmalya Syam and Thamara Romero

Improper acquisition of genetic resources (GRs) and associated traditional knowledge (TK) without prior informed consent and on mutually agreed terms, in accordance with national laws of the country providing the GR and associated TK, as well as without any fair and equitable sharing of the benefits derived from their utilization, has been a significant concern for developing countries. Intellectual property (IP) rights can serve as one of the means of such misappropriation. One of the mechanisms sought by developing countries to prevent it consists in the establishment of an effective multilateral legal mechanism for defensive protection against misappropriation, primarily through the introduction of a mandatory disclosure requirement about the source and country of origin of such resources in intellectual property right (IPR) applications. These negotiations have been taking place in different fora. However, there is an increased sense of frustration due to the lack of progress in achieving consensus during the last twenty years. Meanwhile, new modes of misappropriation of GRs are evolving through the use of genetic sequence information and data of GRs, and by applying technological developments in synthetic biology. This paper discusses the use of IP and genetic sequence information and data as modes of misappropriation of GRs and associated TK and the deficits of the current international legal framework in preventing such misappropriation. This paper also maps the state of play of the ongoing negotiations in the context of these issues in different fora, and, in conclusion, proposes possible alternative approaches for addressing these pressing issues at the multilateral level.

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Policy Brief 87, February 2021

WIPO Negotiations for an International Legal Instrument on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources

By Nirmalya Syam

Over the past few years, Member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have engaged in negotiations for concluding an international legal instrument on intellectual property and genetic resources. While developing countries have a major interest in securing through this instrument a mandatory requirement for applicants of IP rights over innovations that utilize genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge to disclose their source or origin, certain developed countries that are major markets for such products are absolutely opposed to recognizing the disclosure requirement as an objective of the legal instrument under negotiation. Other developed countries are agreeable to a disclosure requirement with a narrow scope, broad exceptions, and weakened remedies against non-compliance. This Policy Brief analyses the current state of play in the negotiations considering the different positions as reflected in the draft negotiating text, as well as a proposal by the Chair of the WIPO intergovernmental committee where the negotiations are taking place, to bridge the difference and take the negotiations forward. This brief concludes that any meaningful international legal instrument on IP and GRs in WIPO must recognize the fundamental issue of misappropriation of GRs through the IP system that should be resolved through a mandatory disclosure requirement as the principal mechanism. It would also be critical to ensure that the WIPO instrument is coherent with other related international legal instruments such the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit-sharing; specialized instruments like the FAO Plant Treaty as well as related mechanisms or fora like the WHO (on use of pathogens as a genetic resource) and the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) negotiations on marine genetic resources beyond areas of national jurisdiction.

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Western Indian Ocean Regional Meeting of the HLP on the Sustainable Ocean Economy Report

Western Indian Ocean (WIO) Regional Meeting of the High Level Panel (HLP) on the Sustainable Ocean Economy Report

African countries called for action to address issues that are unique to Africa on fisheries, climate change and ocean health and wealth and discussed an African position in preparation for the United Nations Ocean Conference 2020 and the 12th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, at the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) regional meeting of the High Level Panel on the Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP), Mombasa, Kenya, 2-3 December 2019.  Trade ministers should reach agreement in WTO on fisheries’ subsidies, in response to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.6 mandate, which calls for States “by 2020, [to] prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.” South Centre provided inputs and guided a discussion on the issue of fisheries subsidies.

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Research Paper 79, September 2017

Access to and Benefit-Sharing of Marine Genetic Resources beyond National Jurisdiction: Developing a New Legally Binding Instrument

This paper examines the underlying principles and main elements of binding and non-binding international instruments relating to access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources. It discusses the gap left by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and some of the elements that might be considered in developing a new legally-binding instrument on access and benefit-sharing derived from the exploitation of marine genetic resources found in areas beyond national jurisdiction, as mandated by the United Nations General Assembly. (more…)

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