Is policy towards intellectual property rights addressing the real problems? The case of unauthorized appropriation of genetic resources

Unauthorized appropriation of geneticresources has been described by the term``biopiracy.'' Technological breakthroughsincluding biotechnological applications canincrease considerably the instrumental value ofbiodiversity as new products or products withnew properties can be made. Nevertheless, itappears that, in most cases, the properties inquestion were already known to the indigenouspeople and used for centuries. The analysisdiscusses both from an economic and an ethicalperspective whether it is just that traditionalknowledge is rewarded. As the conflictintensifies over questions of ownership andcontrol of biological materials, IntellectualProperty Rights are at the center ofcontroversies. The current global systemgoverning biotechnology has largely been shapedby Western expectations and valuations andconsequently has drawn severe criticism. Thecritics doubt both the stability andsustainability of the current patent system andargue for restructuring through benefit-sharingsystems in order to address some of theexisting inequalities. With the help of a casestudy (US patent no. 5,751 on ayahuasca) thetheoretical notion of biopiracy is applied toreal problems.
Keywords benefit-sharing  biopiracy  genetic resources  intellectual property rights  traditional knowledge  TRIPS agreement
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DOI 10.1023/B:JAGE.0000004960.46753.df
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