Biodiversity and intellectual property

Several overlaps exist between biological diversity (biodiversity) and intellectual property which are not obvious at first glance but can be identified upon closer look. In particular, they are in the areas where the interests of industrial countries and developing countries conflict.


The companies which use genetic resources in their research and development for products and processes are primarily based in industrial and emerging countries. They have an interest in having strong intellectual property protection so that they can guard their innovations and recoup the usually considerable investment in their research.


A large part of the genetic raw materials originate, however, in developing countries. These countries complain that the companies are being granted intellectual property rights that don’t belong to them because they are based on genetic resources and traditional knowledge belonging to the developing countries.


This conflict of interest raises several questions which highlight the relationship between biodiversity and intellectual property (in particular, patent law):


  • Who should be allowed to use genetic resources?
  • How can these resources be used?
  • Should it be possible for the innovations developed from these raw materials to be protected by patents?
  • What measures must be taken to prevent faulty patents and misuse?
  • How can the benefits which arise from the use of genetic resources be distributed in a balanced and fair way?