India to organise meet on biopiracy in Geneva

India is co-organising an international brainstorming session in Geneva early next month on the rampant practice of commercial exploitation of natural products by obtaining patents without fairly compensating the communities from which these originate. Neem, turmeric and ashvagandha from India, harungana leaves and kinkeliba shrub found in various African countries and Peruvian lucuma are some such natural products which have been misappropriated by various developed countries. India has teamed up with Geneva-based inter-governmental organisation South Centre to organise the session in an effort to protect global traditional knowledge from reckless patenting by corporates and biopiracy, and to strengthen global trade norms. Zo Indigenous Forum, a human rights-based indigenous people’s organization in Mizoram, will participate in the session, along with native communities from Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, China, Namibia, Peru and the United States. “The idea is to build momentum on the issue of genetic resources and folklore and strengthen global laws for their protection from misappropriation,” said an official aware of the matter. Emphasising that this is an effort in the interest of all developing countries, the official said that such like-minded members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have sought mandatory disclosure of source or origin of biological resources and evidence of prior informed consent and benefit sharing from patent applicants to avoid exploitation. Developing countries have sought an amendment to the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement to make these two disclosures mandatory. TRIPS CBD Linkage is crucial for India and other developing countries because it seeks to address biopiracy. It has been a long-standing demand that patents should not be granted for existing traditional knowledge and associated genetic resources. Further, it has been argued that where traditional knowledge forms a basis for further scientific developments that are sought to be patented, there should be a mechanism to ensure disclosure of information. The 11-country mega regional trade agreement Trans Pacific Partnership too has recognised patents that are wrongly granted on existing traditional knowledge though it doesn’t talk of mandatory disclosures.