ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Role of the National IPR Policy

Protection of Traditional Knowledge

The new National Intellectual Property Rights Policy advocates an aggressive, neo-liberal agenda of commodification of knowledge, and extends this to traditional knowledge as well. However, there is a need to revisit the primary, still unresolved issues regarding the protection of traditional knowledge and their tentative solutions. Considering the inevitability of participation in the global trade order, a case is made for equipping traditional knowledge holders and indigenous and local communities with the wherewithal to participate in the market economy, proactively assert their rights over their traditional knowledge, and derive benefits from its use.

While protection of traditional knowledge within the ambit of the conventional intellectual property rights (IPRs) regime is fraught with difficulties owing to the inherent mismatch between the two, there is some sort of consensus on the imperative of extending the reach of IPR and/or specially designed sui generis regimes to traditional knowledge, primarily as a key strategy to prevent misappropriation (CBD 2007; WIPO 2008). In line with this perspective, traditional knowledge and the interests of the “less-visible intellectual property generators and holders” have found space in the new National IPR Policy released by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Government of India in May 2016. The policy, while recognising that the “monetisation of knowledge” is not a part of the Indian ethos, argues that this does not fit with the global regime, thereby necessitating a transformation of knowledge into intellectual property assets, for which “value” and “economic reward” could be obtained through commercialisation.

The policy advocates an aggressive, neo-liberal agenda of commodification of knowledge (including traditional know­ledge), seeking to bring about “a major paradigm shift of how knowledge is viewed and valued—not for what it is, but for what it can become.” The imposition of market values upon traditional knowledge, enforced through international agreements and national laws enacted in conformity with the former, has been perceived by many as antithetical to the normative ethos of traditional knowledge and the “lifeworlds” of indigenous and local communities (ILCs), for whom traditional knowledge is intrinsically linked to their sustenance: economic, cultural and spiritual. At the same time, the inevitability of participation in the global trade order strengthens the case for equipping traditional knowledge holders with the legal tools and wherewithal to participate in the market economy, proactively assert their rights over their traditional know­ledge and derive benefits from its use.

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