J.M. Staral, J.A. Sekerak

International Partners In Mission (UNITED STATES)
Biopiracy is the unauthorized extraction of biological resources and/or associated traditional knowledge (TK) from developing countries and the subsequent claim of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in those resources without compensation to the developing country or community from which it was originally sourced. This practice has allowed billions of dollars in assets to flow from the world’s poorest countries to the world’s richest. This conversion of knowledge has had severe and widespread effects on the environment, health and global development resulting in grave violations of human rights by denying the social, economic, and cultural life of indigenous peoples.

In their most recent effort to address this problem, The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) passed the Nagoya Protocol, which will significantly strengthen the ability of developing countries to negotiate fair and equitable terms for granting access to their biological resources. Before access can be granted, the governments of provider countries must first seek the informed assent of the indigenous communities who are holders of the TK tied to biological resources. However, there is a significant cultural gap in the way indigenous populations and the developed North conceptualize, value, and control intellectual property. Without sensitization to the perspectives of the North, these indigenous communities cannot truly give informed assent.

An effort to sensitize populations of indigenous peoples to the concept of westernized intellectual property and biopiracy is needed. We propose the development of a customizable digital learning module that can be disseminated to these target populations through the existing framework of non-governmental organizations in developing countries. We seek to create a method of education that will introduce the concept of IPRs with interactive technology and multilateral sharing on how different regional cultures control the dissemination of TK; first comparing them to each other and then to the North’s system of IPRs. The purpose of this sensitization is simply to foster an understanding of IPRs, without encouraging or discouraging the use or adoption of the North’s system. International Partners in Mission will use its existing network of project partners in developing countries as a model for the development of this proposal with the eventual goal of international organ and public/private collaboration.

The effects of this method of education will be three fold. First, it will help to stop biopiracy at the source by giving indigenous populations the information they need to make informed decisions on allowing access to resources. Second, it will help to strengthen development in these communities by providing information on the incentives and protections of intellectual property rights. Businesses that use biological resources will be better prepared to bring their products to the international market and can seek to protect their creations if they so choose. Lastly, this sensitization will give indigenous populations a voice in international negotiations. Once an indigenous community clearly understands the position of the North and the differences in their conception of traditional knowledge, culture and intellectual property, they will be able to identify the needs and concerns of their people in regards to the international policies that so deeply affect them.