Biodiversity and Intellectual Property


The TRIPs agreement has provisions to increase protection of intellectual property rights of developing countries and emerging markets. It has been expensive to implement sometimes costing $60 billion to the least developed country. Despite the UN convention of biodiversity, some developing countries have argued that biopiracy and bioprospecting are continuing to cause underpayment of potential royalties. Abdullah and Jusoff(2009) have discussed how to value a commercial patented contribution of a company versus the original donor knowledge from an underdeveloped country.

Economists Lisa Cook and Chaleampong Kongcharoen of the Michigan State University (August 2009) found that there is increased activity in protecting intellectual property in and by developing countries after laws related to intellectual property have been introduced (evidence from 177-2007).

The traditional herbalist cannot patent the herbal properties of an entire plant that is used for naturally treating a disease. However, a scientist can isolate the active compounds such as alkaloids or phenols or provide a formulation for a preparation which is effective for treating the same disease and obtain a valid patent. The scientist’s patent rights now prevent even the original herbalist who share knowledge so generously from using that active compound or formulation to treat the same disease. The plant

International communities are beginning to question this practice. Is it ethical for scientists from developed countries to go to an underdeveloped indigenous community to obtain ancient healing knowledge which is used in screening assays to isolate the active ingredient? The resulting drug can get patent protection and has a greater chance to succeed through clinical trials, and become a multimillion dollar product.  It will also be too expensive for the developing country which provided the knowledge and for the other developing countries which also have used the plant traditionally but did not share the knowledge. Not all people in a developing country have access to their herbalists and most educated generations prefer and trust modern drugs more than their traditional healers. We will be providing in the future more detailed examples of such situation and how some institutions are collaborating with local governments and communities in providing solutions for this scenario.

There are various viewpoints. Is it exploitation to mine the knowledge of the ancient elders of indigenous tribes? Is it scientific progress to seek out the active ingredients in traditional herbal whole plant therapies? It has been argued the issues of public health, IP and the policing of counterfeit medicine cannot be separated.

For further information:

1) http://www.sristi.org/material/mdpipr2003/MDPIPR2003CD/M5%20Intellectual%20property%20rights.pdf3)

2) http://www.law.washington.edu/Casrip/Symposium/Number6/Straus.pdf

3) http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=N-JGNx2XWe0C&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=Biodiversity+and+Intellectual+Property&ots=E0tlAWIksm&sig=Y62r3aGkwVJoPXQoKuBdmlS_vCo#v=onepage&q&f=false

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