Developing Countries Want to Receive the Payment Of Royalties For the Use of Traditional Knowledge

BRASILIA – Until Friday (August 10, 2012), representatives from 40 developing countries have been discussing intellectual protection issues and payment for the commercial use of ancestral knowledge, genetic resources of biodiversity, folklore and copyright. The meeting was held at the Itamaraty Palace(*). 

The initiative was taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE), the Brazilian Patent and Trademark Office (INPI) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which through three different internal committees is already discussing the Development Agenda aiming at the benefit the countries of the Southern Hemisphere. 

“The common idea is that traditional knowledge can be subject of part (of payment) of the royalties generated by a technology derived from an ancient knowledge,” says Mr. Jorge de Paula Costa Ávila, President of the INPI. 

“The purpose of the meeting is to enable countries that are sovereign over their genetic resources to obtain some kind of share gains arisen from patents and developed from their biodiversity resources,” added Councilor Kenneth Nobrega, head of the Intellectual Property Division of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

“What we want is that the international system of patent protection takes into account that a medicine or a chemical product, for example, may have been developed on the basis of biodiversity resources,” said the diplomat. 

There is no estimate of the value that may be earned by developing countries that hold the largest biological reserves and have a large ethnic diversity. Yet, the President of INPI estimates that in case of use of medicinal plants, whose active principle could result  in a new pharmaceutical drugs, a percentage between 5% and 10% of the royalties could be redistributed. 

Mr. Avila admits, however, that the protection mechanisms and payment may be difficult to be drawn. This is because the traditional knowledge is often ancestral, widespread and without written records, being occasionally found in more than one geographical area as result of the populations migrations.

As the meeting’s host, on August 8, 2012, the Brazilian government signed with WIPO a cooperation agreement valid for four years, in the amount of  R$ 2.1 million (approx. US$ 1,000,000.00), in order to assist projects on intellectual property specific for developing countries. 

According to experts, despite this initiative Brazil has a legislation that inhibits the access to genetic resources in scientific researches if it has the purpose of developing a commercial product, such as a pharmaceutical drug. 

“It is obvious that our procedure is complex,” said the President of INPI. According to him, many products do not have a legally declared patent because the owners have not obtained the relevant authorization for research from the Board of Management of Genetic Patrimony (CGEN), which is submitted to the Ministry of Environment. 

“In order to become a major player [economic] Brazil will have to be a country that registers many patents, promoting its creative industry,” says Councilor Kenneth Nóbrega.  As the legislation is favorable to basic research, but rather restrictive to commercial research, some products can be patented in foreign countries, but not in Brazil. This was the case of copaíba (**), whose oil is extracted from a tree of the Amazon rainforest and used for more than 50 herbal and medicinal purposes. 

According to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, between 2000 and 2009, 17 patents containing copaiba have been filed by the United States and none by Brazil. Yet, during this period, Brazilian researchers published 76 scientific articles on basic research about the plant.

(*) headquarter of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

(**) Copaifera langsdorffii, also known as Kerosene tree or Diesel tree.

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