Traditional knowledge and indigenous peoples

The Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore of the World Intellectual Property Organization

For several years, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has been trying to protect the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples by means of new legal intellectual property law instruments.
The negotiations to draft such an instrument take place within the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). The Committee was founded by the WIPO General Assembly in September 2000, and its mandate (pdf) was most recently renewed in October 2015 for the years 2016 to 2017.

The objective of the IGC negotiations is to develop one or more international legal instruments for the protection of genetic resources (GRs), traditional knowledge (TK) and folklore/traditional cultural expressions (TCEs). In order to protect the rights of indigenous people, a profit sharing mechanism, triggered from the use of their traditional knowledge, is being discussed. The negotiations are currently at an impasse.

The IGC also has the task of defining the term 'traditional knowledge'. Generally, TK is comprised of the skills, innovations and practices that are rooted in an indigenous community and is usually passed down orally from generation to generation. It relates to the traditional culture of indigenous peoples and is used by the community in their everyday lives. Traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples includes knowledge of the healing properties of certain plants (herbal medicine), agricultural methods, the migration routes of wild animals and birds, and traditional hunting and fishing techniques.


Financial support for indigenous peoples from the Institute of Intellectual Property

The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) financed the participation of indigenous peoples at a WIPO seminar in June 2015. The seminar served as a platform for the direct transfer of information and knowledge on the subjects of intellectual property, GRs, TK and TCEs. Its aim was to strengthen the position of indigenous communities and prepare them for negotiations within the IGC. With this support, the IPI continued its long-standing commitment to indigenous peoples (see Media release, PDF).