Mr Shakeel Bhatti, Program Officer, Global Intellectual Property Issues Division, WIPO, presented a paper entitled Intellectual property rights in the context of traditional medicine.
Mr Bhatti’s presentation covered four areas. Firstly, he addressed some terminological issues surrounding traditional medicine, which arise in the intellectual property context. Secondly, he described WIPO’s work since 1998 on intellectual property and traditional knowledge, including a WIPO Asian Regional Seminar on Intellectual Property Issues in the Field of Traditional Medicine (New Delhi, October 1998); two WIPO-UNEP case studies on the role of intellectual property rights in the sharing of benefits arising from the use of medicinal plants and associated traditional medicine knowledge; WIPO fact-finding missions on intellectual property and traditional knowledge (1998-99); and two WIPO Roundtables on Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge. The third area that Mr. Bhatti covered was a summary of the intellectual property needs of traditional healers, which were identified during these activities by a wide range of stakeholders. These needs included, inter alia, the prevention of the acquisition of intellectual property rights over traditional medicine by its documenting and publication as searchable prior art; a reassessment of what constitutes prior art for purposes of patent examinations; the testing of options for the collective management of intellectual property rights by traditional healers’ associations; a study of customary laws which protect traditional medicine in local and traditional communities; testing the applicability of the present intellectual property system for the protection of traditional medicine; facilitating access to the intellectual property system for traditional medicine practitioners; legal and technical assistance with the documentation of traditional medicine; and awareness-raising as to the role of intellectual property protection in relation to traditional medicine. Fourthly, Mr. Bhatti elaborated on two WIPO activities which seek to address these existing needs, namely the creation of a WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, as well as a WIPO pilot project to test the feasibility of electronic exchange of traditional knowledge documentation in order to prevent the granting of patents on such traditional knowledge, in cases where the knowledge is already in the public domain. Finally, the presentation included a demonstration of an online prototype of Traditional Knowledge Digital Libraries (TKDL), which included information on about 50 medicinal plants and associated traditional knowledge. The presentation of the WIPO representative concluded by indicating that certain existing intellectual property rights may provide a degree of protection to traditional medicine practitioners and exemplified this possibility through experiments which some grassroots organizations had undertaken to collectively file patent applications and acquire other intellectual property rights on behalf of traditional medicine practitioners.