A Handbook of Contemporary Research
Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series
Edited by Matthew Rimmer
Chapter 2: The World Trade Organization, the TRIPS Agreement and traditional knowledge
This chapter addresses the role of the World Trade Organization (‘WTO’) and its Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (‘TRIPS Agreement 1994’) in the protection of ‘traditional knowledge’, which arises predominantly but not exclusively in developing countries and frequently involves Indigenous communities. As discussed further, traditional knowledge is mentioned but not defined in both the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007 and the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992. A range of definitions of traditional knowledge have been proposed but not yet agreed at the international level, the definition itself being a contentious issue within the WTO and other fora. Discussions of traditional knowledge frequently extend to concerns about the misuse or misappropriation of genetic resources, as has happened in the WTO context. After a broad introduction to the WTO and the TRIPS Agreement 1994 for the purpose of understanding the traditional knowledge debate in connection with international trade law, I explain the framework for that debate within the WTO’s ongoing and troubled negotiations pursuant to the Doha Development Agenda. I then turn to a more detailed examination of the various conceptual challenges raised in seeking agreement on how best to protect traditional knowledge within the WTO, the intellectual property regime, and broader norms and interests in the international community.
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