Table of Contents

Indigenous Intellectual Property

Indigenous Intellectual Property

A Handbook of Contemporary Research

Research Handbooks in Intellectual Property series

Edited by Matthew Rimmer

This Handbook considers the international struggle to provide for proper and just protection of Indigenous intellectual property. Leading scholars consider legal and policy controversies over Indigenous knowledge in the fields of international law, copyright law, trademark law, patent law, trade secrets law, and cultural heritage. This collection examines national developments in Indigenous intellectual property from around the world. As well as examining the historical origins of conflicts over Indigenous knowledge, the volume examines new challenges to Indigenous intellectual property from emerging developments in information technology, biotechnology, and climate change.

Chapter 3: The World Intellectual Property Organization and traditional knowledge

Sara Bannerman

Subjects: law - academic, cultural heritage and art law, human rights, intellectual property law


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a special agency of the United Nations, established in 1970 to ‘to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world’. Its current stated mission is ‘to promote innovation and creativity for the economic, social and cultural development of all countries, through a balanced and effective international intellectual property system’. It seeks to do so by offering services that make it easier to obtain international protection for patents, trademarks, designs and appellations of origin; offering services to resolve intellectual property disputes; developing international legal frameworks for intellectual property; building infrastructure such as databases, tools and information platforms related to intellectual property; and by capacity-building in the use of intellectual property ‘to support economic development’. Although the focus of WIPO and its predecessors has been on building and expanding Western intellectual property laws that apply to Western works and subject-matter, WIPO has also been involved in debates about the protection of other sorts of subject-matter, including folklore since the 1970s, and traditional knowledge since 1998. It has become increasingly involved in norm-setting in the areas of traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, and genetic resources in recent years. This involvement is driven, in part, by those who argue that the misappropriation and misuse of traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources now take place on an international scale, and that, as such, international rules are necessary.

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