Arguendo is the Core Project in the Lex Coterie Group of Organizations.

Friday, 20 December 2013


Traditional Knowledge- An Introduction

An Eskimo hunter once saw a polar bear far off across flat ice, where he couldn’t stalk it without being seen.  But he knew an old technique of mimicking a seal.  He lay down in plain sight, conspicuous in his dark parka and pants, then lifted and dropped his head like a seal, scratched the ice and imitated flippers with his hands.  The bear mistook his pursuer for prey.  Each time the hunter lifted his head the animal kept still; whenever the hunter slept, the bear crept closer.  When it came near enough, a gunshot pierced the snowy silence.  That night, polar bear meat was shared among the villagers.[1]
What helped the hunter capture his prey is knowledge greater than his own. It consisted of a method modified by generations of hunters. It consisted of the combination of the experiences of the ancestors of the hunter who had observed the polar bear and its habits.  No one can surely tell where this knowledge or know-how actually originated from. Such knowledge, as such, belongs to the community or group of people where it originates from. But in most cases the local indigenous groups, who are in possession of such kind of knowledge, may not be aware of or interested in protecting their intellectual properties under patents or copyrights.
 Traditional knowledge (TK) can be considered as the collection or combination of knowledge, know-how, skills and practices that are developed, sustained and passed on from generation to generation within a community, often forming part of its cultural or spiritual identity of the said community and unique to it.
There is no universally accepted definition of Traditional Knowledge, but the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) classifies its definition into two aspects:
·         TK in a general sense embraces the content of knowledge itself as well as traditional cultural expressions, including distinctive signs and symbols associated with TK.
·         TK in the narrow sense refers to knowledge as such, in particular the knowledge resulting from intellectual activity in a traditional context, and includes know-how, practices, skills, and innovations.
Traditional knowledge can be found in a wide variety of contexts, including: agricultural, scientific, technical, ecological and medicinal knowledge as well as biodiversity-related knowledge.[2]
While it is true that Traditional Knowledge can be protected under the current prevailing legislations related to patents, trademarks, trade secrets etc, but due to certain factors unique to Traditional Knowledge, none of these laws currently provide sufficient protection.  Few of the reasons behind this are;
1)      Lack of an internationally accepted definition, standard or policy regarding traditional knowledge.
2)      Lack of a clear idea regarding what is and what is not traditional knowledge leading to presence of loopholes in the laws.
3)      Traditional Knowledge in most cases is an oral form of knowledge passed down from generations. That leads to no written document, scripture or proof of the origin or source of the knowledge.
4)      Unlike other form of non-traditional knowledge, Traditional Knowledge rights are given to the people of a certain community. ( A lot like Geographical Indicators) 
5)      There is a difference of opinion among the members of the EU and countries like USA regarding the best method for safe guarding Traditional Knowledge.

While it is true that a few countries have adopted the sui generis system of legislations to protect TK and the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which is a collaborative project between Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ministry of Science and Technology and Department of AYUSH, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has been estabilised in India to protect the traditional medicinal knowledge like Unani and Ayurveda from being exploited by MNCs ( such acts are also known as biopiracy), there is still some work to be done before it can be safely stated that the interests of all the parties, especially those natives, who want to be left to their own without the interference of the ‘outside world’, is respected and protected, without the greater good of the world sacrificed.  


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