Thursday, June 14, 2012

Another look at traditional knowledge

Maori Statue
The Times of India reports that negotiators from India, Colombia, Peru and New Zealand will shortly meet in Bali to talk about traditional knowledge.

One of the items on the agenda is some kind of agreement on what exactly they mean by "traditional knowledge". Talks have been going on for a decade at international fora such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). I don't think anyone is expecting a resolution at this meeting.

Another item on the agenda is who gets to share the royalty or fee that arises from the use of traditional knowledge, genetic resources or traditional cultural expression. Apparently the Peruvians and the Colombians want the resources to flow to the local communities. The Indians on the other hand want to see sovereign governments get the funds. One commentator wants to see companies using genetic resources to state clearly that they have been legally accessed.

I'm not sure what our New Zealand officials are going to say. However, I'm fairly sure that New Zealand will not be criticised by other countries for its treatment of traditional knowledge. Here we have the Waitangi Tribunal, set up to make recommendations on claims brought by Maori relating to actions or omissions of the Crown that breach promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.

Last year we saw a decision issue on the 262nd claim brought before the Waitangi Tribunal. The genesis of WAI 262 is concern at the ease with which native flora and fauna can be lost to overseas interests. This claim puts under the spotlight the Maori rights of tino rangatiratanga (authority) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over indigenous flora and fauna.The report is unique in that it looks to build a partnership between Māori and the Crown beyond the grievance process. The report looks to establish a culture in New Zealand where both cultures are promoted, rather than one being promoted above the other.

The report acknowledges that current intellectual property laws and policies in New Zealand were not designed to deal with indigenous relationships with flora and fauna.  Furthermore, current laws and policies allow third parties to use traditional knowledge without acknowledgement and consent.

Furthermore, the report states that Maori tribes do not have ownership rights in “taonga species” or in traditional knowledge relating to those species.

It makes some recommendations to the Government as follows:
  • establish a Maori advisory committee to advise the Commissioner of Patents about whether inventions are derived from Maori traditional knowledge or use taonga species;
  • establish a register of traditional knowledge;
  • introduce a legal requirement for patent applicants to disclose the source and the country of origin of any genetic or biological material contributing to the invention; and
  • grant the commissioner the power to refuse patents that unduly interfere with the relationships between kaitiaki and taonga.
Photo courtesy of author Traumador under Creative Commons licence.

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