Bio-piracy is the use of biological resources for the discovery & commercialization of new products. It is based on the concept of Traditional Knowledge (TK) which usually means that people of an indigenous environment are aware of their environment & possess knowledge about the same because they have been living in the same for several years now. TK can include scientific, technological, environmental, agricultural or medicinal knowledge. Traditional folklore, literary works etc are also considered to be a part of Traditional Knowledge.
Pharmaceutical, as well as Multi-National Companies, pose a major threat to traditional knowledge in the present day by acts which amount to bio-piracy.
There is no standard definition to define bio-piracy. Wikipedia defines it as a practice in which indigenous knowledge which arises out of nature and originates with indigenous peoples, is used up for profit, without the consent form and meagre or no compensation to the indigenous people.
According to the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), bio-piracy is appropriating genetic resources and the knowledge of farming as well as indigenous communities in order to seek profits from the same and create a monopolistic situation. The same is done by institutions or individuals who tend to achieve the same.
Most of the developing countries fall prey to bio-piracy because approximately 90% of the traditional knowledge & biological resources are vested in them. Bio-piracy includes the claim of knowledge and /or genetic resources belonging to a particular region, community or country as one’s own. Thus it is very similar to the traditional concept of piracy.
It hampers the use of the knowledge or genetic resource claimed in the area of origin, and the person claiming who acquires a patent, may unfairly & unethically benefit from it. Such patents are also acquired illegally.
Major causes of Bio-piracy can include:
- Developed or industrialized countries may have technological or financial resources but do not necessarily have biodiversity or traditional knowledge. They may lack the ability to deal with bioresources. In contrast, underdeveloped or developing countries have ample bioresources & biodiversity but most often lack in technological or financial resources. Thus this leads to the exploitation of the underdeveloped or developing countries by the developed ones, resulting into bio-piracy.
- Big multi-national or pharmaceutical companies engage in bio-piracy because they either do not have enough time to collect samples or they want to earn a competitive advantage for greater profits.
Patents acquired through bio-piracy can be of the form of:
(a) The patent claims the Traditonal Knowledge or the resource in which it was acquired.
(b) The patent a refined, purified or a innovative version of the knowledge or resource. Several cases have come into picture which highlight bio-piracy.
- Knowledge-sharing contracts: The creation of knowledge sharing contracts can balance the needs of all the parties involved, thus curbing biopiracy. “Merck and the Costa Rican National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) was an agreement created to share biological samples and information with potential for pharmaceutical development in exchange for staff training at Merck facilities, one million US dollars in compensation over a two year period, $130,000 of laboratory equipment for use at the University of Costa Rica and royalties on any pharmaceuticals developed. The Merck/INBio agreement can serve as a model to other countries of a program that addresses several problems and is a collaborative effort, not just a bilateral business undertaking.”
- The elimination of the patentability of plants “Revoking patents on life could reduce the misappropriation of benefits and the exploitation of traditional knowledge and biological resources by developed countries.”4 By elimination of patents of biolife, its benefits can be shared by everyone. Patents are developed for publc good, but what would be their use if they don’t serve the purpose.
- Reformed IPR Laws: A patent system needs to apply novelty as a criteria and non-obviousness in the granting of patents related to indigenous knowledge, then the system is flawed and needs to change.” Thus it should be paid great attention to how patents are granted. Patent offices need to take initiative to ensure that the investigation of patents is done before granting patents instead of granting them quickly and leaving any heavy research to post-award litigators.
- Traditional Resource Rights “Many proponents of the development TRRs assert that IPRs are not an effective mechanism to achieve indigenous empowerment. As an alternative to the usual top-down development structure, they propose TRRs to more appropriately address the issue at hand instead of trying to fit the complex politics and nuances of indigenous property into the framework of established IPRs
- Knowledge Databases Creation of knowledge databases can help give due credit to the origin of the knowledge. Thus documentation of such knowledge helps curb bio-piracy to a large extent. “An example of a fairly successful global registration system is India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library which holds over 36,000 formulations from Ayurvedic medicinal practice and features categories to facilitate the links between traditional formulations and proposed patents. Creating knowledge databases as a defensive intellectual property strategy will prove to be an integral step to prove prior existence”
- Implementation of Benefit Sharing Systems Communities need more than just rules providing for benefit sharing at the level of substantive law; they also need an effective enforcement system. To implement an efficient benefit sharing system, an effective enforcement and dispute resolution mechanism should be implemented as well asa flexible approach should be taken.
In today’s era, it becomes important to curb the menace of bio piracy & to protect indigenous groups from being exploited. Traditional Knowledge holders should be given their due credit. It becomes important for the law enforcement agencies to verify properly before the granting of a patent. Undue advantage of a patent leads to public harm rather than good.
By Maahi Mayuri
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