Past, present and future perspectives


Related to the issue of IKS is intellectual property rights (IPR), which has assumed increasing importance in terms of conservation, management, sustainable utilization and benefit sharing of genetic resources. The plunder of African intellectual property rights contributes to human vulnerability, because the region will be unable to derive benefit from its resources, particularly after patenting.

African countries which are particularly rich in genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore have an interest in the role of IPR, in the sharing of benefits arising from the patenting and use of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge (WIPO 2001). For example, currently, at least 97 per cent of all patents are held by nationals of countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and at least 90 per cent of all technology and product patents are held by Northernbased global corporations (UNDP 2000, Singh 2001). Similarly, at least 70 per cent of all patent royalty payments are made between the subsidiaries of parent enterprises, and three-quarters of the 76 000-odd patent applications filed to WIPO in 1999 came from just five OECD countries (RAFI 2000c, Singh 2001).

Between 1980 and 1994, the share of global trade involving high-tech, patented production rose from 12 per cent to 24 per cent, and now accounts for more than half of the GDP of OECD countries if intellectual property rights on plants and livestock are included UNDP 1999, Singh 2001). The total revenue from all patents grew from US$15 000 million in 1990 to US$100 000 million in 1998, and is expected to increase to US$500 000 million dollars by 2005 (RAFI 2000c). The number of cases of intellectual appropriation of the South is growing steadily. Box 3.21 gives some statistics on IPR.

Box 3.21 IPR statistics
  • Some 86 per cent of known higher plants, 99 per cent of the world's indigenous people and 96 per cent of the world's farmers live in the South (Africa, Asia and Latin America).
  • Some 83 per cent of known diversity and in-situ knowledge is held in the South.
  • The South's share of species diversity ranges from a low of 52 per cent of known fish species to a high of 91 per cent of reptile species. The South has 87 per cent of the global diversity of higherorder plant species and at least 83 per cent of all forests (tropical and temperate) (RAFI 1996).
  • Some 75 per cent of ex-situ resources and technology are in the North (most of which originated in the South), and it is currently beyond the reach of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (RAFI 1996).
  • Only 22 per cent of all crop gene banks are in the North, but 55 per cent of all seed accessions and 62 per cent of all crop species are in the North's collection. The large gene banks of the Consultative Groups on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which are located in the South, are controlled by Northern boards and funding agencies. If the CGIAR collections are deducted from the South's ex-situ holdings, its share of banked crop seed will plummet to about one-third of the global total (RAFI 1996).
  • Some 83 per cent of recent bio-prospecting projects focus on the South's terrestrial biodiversity, 11 per cent on international waters and only 6 per cent exclusively on the North (RAFI 1996).
Source: Singh 2001

The OAU has produced model legislation to regulate traditional medicine in African countries, and member states have already adopted it. Box 3.22 highlights some of the provisions of the model law, which will be used as a basis for finalizing uniform national laws aimed at integrating African economies.

BoxBox 3.22 African model law on intellectual property rights

The African model law on intellectual property rights urges OAU member states to:

  • examine ways and means of raising awareness about the protection of genetic resources, indigenous knowledge and folklore, taking into account the need to protect the rights of local communities;
  • identify, catalogue, record and document the genetic and biological resources and traditional knowledge, including expressing of folklore held by their communities, within the framework of national laws.
  • exchange information and experiences, and continue,within the framework of the OAU, with the search for joint solutions to problems of common concern, and with the efforts aimed at developing common positions, policies and strategies in relation to these issues.
Source:WIPO 2001