Bio-Piracy refers to the idea of foreign corporations, universities and/or governments appropriating biological resources or traditional knowledge from developing countries, for commercial use, without acknowledgment or compensation. These research entities then apply for patents claiming the isolated and purified compounds developed from this local knowledge. Unfortunately, little to none of the benefits obtained from commercializing and patenting are ever received by the developing countries.
Historically, one of the most well known drugs, Cocaine, was and still is used in its unpurified form, the Coca Leaf, by the indigenous people of South America for its medicinal properties. The Coca Leaf was first introduced to Westerners when the Spaniards conquered South America in the late 1400′s. However, it wasn’t until a German Chemist, Friedrich Gaedcke, developed a purification process, that the Cocaine was isolated from the Coca Leaf in 1855. From that point up, until its prohibition in the early 1900′s, cocaine was commercially sold in various medicinal syrups and other forms throughout America and Western Europe. Unfortunately, until the current Drug Lords, the indigenous people of South America, which first introduced the Spaniards to the Coca Leaf, did not share in the benefits of the widespread commercial success.
Currently, the United Nations (UN) requires prior informed consent and equitable benefit-sharing for foreign entities engaged in this type of research. However, developing countries feel that this is easily avoided at the national level, because the UN leaves it up to the member country if and how to apply these requirements.
In an effort to develop international regulations, developing countries have been campaigning in the World Trade Organization (WTO) attempting to mandate that patent applicants disclose the origin of inventions using biological resources or traditional knowledge as a condition of obtaining a patent.
While redistribution of wealth is a good idea, mandating a disclosure requirement may have adverse effects on patent owners’ rights and stifle new investments. Prior to going through with such a proposal, developing nations and the WTO. need to sit down and determine the effects; balancing both the incentive to develop future technoloy and the interests of the countries that make development possible.
Filed under: International Patent by admin