Need to revive biopiracy talks at WTO: Commerce secretary Rita Teaotia

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NEW DELHI: Calling for a global regime to stop misappropriation and reckless patenting of traditional knowledge, commerce secretary Rita Teaotia emphasised on the need to revive discussions on biopiracy at the World Trade Organisation to counter the practice of commercially exploiting natural products by obtaining patents while failing to fairly compensate the communities from which these originate.

“Effective international regime will create certainty of access for users, including MNCs and the developed countries, while also ensuring against patenting of existing knowledge,” Teaotia said at an event organised by the Centre for WTO Studies at Indian Institute of Foreign Trade on Wednesday.

She said there is an urgent need to revive discussions on the linkages between intellectual property rights and the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) at the WTO since there is asymmetry between the benefits earned by companies that commercially exploit products derived from traditional knowledge and benefits for traditional knowledge holder along with misappropriation or biopiracy.

Attempts to patent medicinal properties of neem, turmeric and ashvagandha in Europe and the United States are examples of the adverse effects that a patent monopoly over traditional knowledge can have on indigenous communities that hold such knowledge.

The issue has receded to the background in recent years. Despite the Doha Declaration mandating the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council at the WTO to examine the TRIPS-CBD linkages, discussions appear to have halted in 2011.