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.