Towards effective multilateral protection of traditional knowledge within the global intellectual property framework
Kuti, Temitope Babatunde
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Traditional Knowledge (TK) has previously been considered a 'subject' in the public domain, unworthy of legal protection. However, the last few decades have witnessed increased discussions on the need to protect the knowledge of indigenous peoples for their economic sustenance, the conservation of biodiversity and modern scientific innovation. Questions remain as to how TK can best be protected through existing, adapted or sui generis legal frameworks. Based on an examination of the formal knowledge-protection mechanisms (i.e. the existing intellectual property system), this mini-thesis contends that these existing systems are inadequate for protecting TK. As a matter of fact, they serve as veritable platforms for incidences of biopiracy. It further argues that the many international initiatives designed to protect TK have so far failed owing to inherent shortcomings embedded in them. Furthermore, a comparative assessment of several national initiatives (in New Zealand, South Africa and Kenya) supports an understanding that several domestic efforts to protect TK have been rendered ineffective due to the insurmountable challenge of dealing with the international violations of local TK rights. It is therefore important that on-going international negotiations for the protection of TK, including the negotiations within the World Intellectual Property Organisation's Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), do not adopt similar approaches to those employed in previous initiatives if TK must be efficiently and effectively protected. This mini-thesis concludes that indigenous peoples possess peculiar protection mechanisms for their TK within the ambit of their customary legal systems and that these indigenous mechanisms are the required anchors for effective global protections.