Gender Dimensions of Intellectual Property and Traditional Medicinal Knowledge
UNDP Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Initiative
1 Apr 2007
The e-discussion paper attempts to outline the debates on intellectual property (IP) protection vis-à-vis other systems for protecting the communal nature of traditional medicinal plant knowledge.
Strong patent protection under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) has particular implications for protection and widespread use of traditional medicinal knowledge, which remains one of the most common, affordable forms of healthcare in developing countries in Asia-Pacific. The e-discussion paper attempts to outline the debates on intellectual property (IP) protection vis-à-vis other systems for protecting the communal nature of traditional medicinal plant knowledge. One major argument is to exclude this medicinal knowledge from Western intellectual property protection because it is taken out of its cultural context and enters a realm of private, monopoly rights, with the immediate objective of securing royalties for the patent owner. Often the associate cultural knowledge is lost, which may impact the cultural survival of indigenous groups. The current IP regime has catalyzed the trend to misappropriate plant medicinal knowledge, without guaranteeing benefit-sharing or compensation to the originators of the knowledge. Misappropriation, or the practice of biopiracy, poses two main challenges for practitioners and consumers in developing countries: People who depend on traditional medicines may lose access to medicinal plants and the associated knowledge if the plants are patented by outside researchers and pharmaceutical companies; and over-harvesting the commercially valuable medicinal plants could result in extinction, with implicit healthcare and livelihoods impacts for indigenous and rural peoples. The paper uses a gender lens to understand how IP and trade policies affect disempowered peoples, particularly women and men whose livelihoods depend on the collection and harvesting of traditional medicines.
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