Intellectual property rights and the protection of traditional knowledge in Western Cape agriculture

Daya, Yusuf (2004-12)

Thesis (MComm)--Stellenbosch University, 2004.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study analyses the extent to which the current intellectual property system is suited to the protection of traditional knowledge in the Western Cape. Employing a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates economic and legal theory as well as legal philosophy, this study argues that although advances in the fields of biotechnology has brought with it the need for greater intellectual property rights protection, the protection of traditional knowledge has largely been ignored. Traditional ethnobotanical knowledge holds immense economic value for both commercial entities seeking to develop products based on traditional knowledge as well as for the communities that possess such knowledge. Protecting traditional knowledge is necessary to ensure that the communities contributing their knowledge are recognized and compensated for such contributions. In order for a system to provide adequate protection for traditional knowledge it has to be consistent with and suited to the needs of traditional knowledge holders. This study therefore evaluates the prevailing system of knowledge protection as embodied in the intellectual property rights regime as a means of protecting traditional knowledge. The analysis reveals that the dominant justification for the existence ofIPRs is based on utilitarian considerations that promote IPRs as a necessary incentive encouraging innovative activity. This utilitarian justification also provides the basis for an economic justification for the existence of IPRs that suggests that the conferring of exclusive rights (in the form of IPRs) to innovators ensure that such innovators are able to recover their research costs and realize profits from their inventions. The IPR system as it exists is underpinned by these considerations and embedded in principles of individualism and private property. The WTO reinforces and promotes this approach to intellectual property in the TRIPs agreement by recognizing intellectual property as a 'trade related' issue. The inclusion of IPRs as a 'trade related' issue in the multilateral framework of the WTO reflects the interests of multinational corporations and developed nations who rely extensively on these mechanisms to maintain their power and wealth in an increasingly knowledge driven global economy. The exclusion of traditional knowledge within the TRIPs, coupled with the desire to extend patents to cover life forms is also indicative of this bias inherent in the system. South African intellectual property legislation is then applied to the traditional knowledge of an indigenous medicinal plant to test whether IPRs are able to provide adequate protection to traditional knowledge. In this regard it is found that patent protection, which could potentially provide the greatest form of protection for traditional knowledge is. not suited to the needs of traditional knowledge holders. Problems of identifying owners, determining inventors and novelty, time limited rights and costs all limits the potential of patents as a tool for protecting traditional knowledge. Similar constraints limit the potential of other categories of IPRs to provide protection for traditional knowledge. However, it was found that IPRs do provide a certain measure of defensive protection. The study therefore concludes that the IPR system as it exists, both in the international trade environment as well as at the national level, fails to adequately address the threat of appropriation and the concerns of traditional knowledge holders. Amending the IPR system and/or developing sui generis systems of protection are therefore necessary to ensure that the knowledge of communities are protected and such communities are able to benefit from the exploitation oftheir knowledge and resources.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die doel van hierdie studie is om vas te stel in hoe 'n mate die huidige sisteem vir die beskerming van intellektuele eiendom geskik is vir die beskerming van tradisionele kennis in die Wes-Kaap. 'n Multidissiplinêre benadering, wat uit elemente van ekonomiese- en regsteorie sowel as regsfilosofie haal, is gevolg om te wys dat die beskerming van tradisionele kennis grootliks geïgnoreer is, alhoewel nuwe deurbrake in biotegnologie die behoefte skep vir groter bekerming van intellektuele eiendom. Tradisionele etnobotaniese kennis het geweldige ekonomiese waarde vir beide die kommersiële entiteite wat produkte uit sodanige kennis wil produseer sowel as vir tradisionele gemeenskappe aan wie die kennis behoort. Dus, indien sulke gemeenskappe voordeel wil trek uit hierdie kennis, is dit nodig dat hul bydraes erken moet word, en dat hulle daarvoor vergoed moet word. Sulke beskerming sal net doeltreffend wees indien dit aangepas is by die behoeftes van hierdie gemeenskappe. Dus word die huidige sisteem vir die beskerming van tradisionele kennis geevalueer in hierdie studie. Die ondersoek wys dat die sisteem vir die beskerming van intellektuele eiendom berus op die teoretiese basis van nutsmaksimering, waar die hoofdoel te vinde is in die bydrae wat dit kan maak tot ekonomiese welvaart deur middel van innovasie. In hierdie opsig word beskerming van intellektuele eiendom beskou as 'n manier waardeur die innoveerder sy navorsings- en ontwikkelingskostes kan delg en wins kan maak. Hierdie benadering word onderskryf deur die WTO in die TRIPS Ooreenkoms. In hierdie opsig word die belange van veral die ryk lande en die multinasionale maatskappye bevorder, 'n sleutelvoordeel in 'n wêreld waar kennis gepaardgaan met mag in die mark. Hierdie verskynsel word versterk deur die uitsluiting van tradisionele kennis van die TRIPS Ooreenkoms en die behoefte daaraan om patentregte uit te brei. Suid-Afrikaanse wetgewing oor intellektuele eiendom word vervolgens toegepas op die geval van tradisionele kennis oor 'n inheemse medisinale plant om te toets of intellektuele eiendomsreg genoegsame beskerming aan tradisionele kennis bied. Daar is gevind dat patentregte, wat potensieël die grootste mate van beskerming sou kon bied, nie gepas is in die geval van houers van tradisionele kennis nie. Probleme wat voorkom sluit in die identifisering van eienaars, innoveerders en innoverings, die tydsbeperking op regte, asook kosteoorwegings. Ander vorms van beskerming is aan soortgelyke kritiek onderhewig, alhoewel bevind is dat intellektuele eiendomsreg wel 'n mate van defensiewe beskerming bied. Die gevolgtrekking word dus gemaak dat die huidige vorms van beskerming vir intellektuele eiendomsreg, beide internasionaal sowel as in Suid-Afrika, nie die belange van die houers van tradisionele kennis beskerm nie. Dit is dus nodig om die huidige vorms aan te spreek, of om sui generis beskerming te ontwikkel om hiervoor te sorg.

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