Can the Caribbean benefit from the International IPR Regime?
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CTA. 2004. Can the Caribbean benefit from the International IPR Regime?. Knowledge for Development. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Permanent link to cite or share this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/63786
The 10th Anniversary of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ('TRIPS') was recently commemorated in Brussels by a Conference organized by the European Union. In the 10 years, the Caribbean countries have made major strid
The system of intellectual property rights ('IPRs') as we know it, evolved in the developed countries. As a consequence, the system does not address some issues of critical importance to developing countries including Caribbean countries. One such issue is the protection of the vast biological diversity of these countries. The term ´biological diversity´ or bio-diversity encompasses the variety of all plants, animals and micro-organisms. Countries rich in bio-diversity are therefore rich in biological resources which can be described as those components of bio-diversity which are useful in the production of food, medicines, manufactured goods and other products. The Caribbean islands are included among the eight hottest hot spots for biological diversity in the world. Take the case of Jamaica, which is the third largest Caribbean island and has been ranked 5th among the islands of the world for its endemic plants. At least 3,304 species of vascular plants can be found there, approximately 28% of which are endemic. There are also marine and freshwater plant species. In terms of animal species, the island is also very rich. Terrestrial vertebrates include rotifers, land snails, Grapsid crabs, jumping spiders, fireflies, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, birds and bats. Endemism among some of these vertebrates is at a high level. For example, of the 514 species of land snails, 98% are endemic. In the case of Grapsid crabs, jumping spiders, fireflies, amphibians and reptiles, the rate of endemism is 100%, 77%, 94%, 100% and 77% respectively. Marine animal species include species of fish, sea anemones, black corals, stony corals, sea fans, molluscs, turtles and marine mammals including whales, dolphins and manatees. There are also freshwater animal species. The data on species of fungi, bacteria, viruses and some invertebrates is incomplete. In the past, biological resources which include genetic resources were regarded as being in the public domain to which everyone had free access. Traditionally, Jamaica for example, has granted access not only to national but also to foreign researchers. The result is that Jamaica and indeed the Caribbean region, has seen little or no financial gain from these resources. The situation is even worse in that the Caribbean is rapidly losing the benefit of these resources, some of which are being lost as a result of extinction while others are being appropriated by individuals and institutions from other countries through the intellectual property system, in particular, patents. Today, genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge have become very important economic resources with the result that access to them has become a very contentious issue. The fact is that in general, the regions rich in biological diversity and consequently genetic resources lack technology whereas the regions rich in technology are poor in biological diversity. The central issue for Caribbean countries is how can they and the region gain financially from this vast biological diversity. The richness of the region´s genetic resources together with the associated traditional knowledge opens up a wealth of opportunities not only in agriculture but also in related sectors - namely the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries and tourism. Genetic resources are in great demand to develop new products and to improve upon existing ones. In Jamaica, there are currently no legislative or policy measures dealing with access to and benefit sharing of genetic resources. Such measures are urgently needed if the loss of these resources and the associated traditional knowledge is to be arrested so that the country can realize the economic benefits from these resources. The question is: Can the IP system protect genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge? There are two views. The first is that the existing IP system can adequately provide the protection. The other view is that a special system is necessary because genetic resources and traditional knowledge do not fit easily within the existing IP regime. Caribbean countries have taken a keen interest in the work of the World Intellectual Property Organisation´s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (?IGC?). While the IGC is providing very valuable information and assistance, the Caribbean region must take ownership of its biological diversity and devise policies, objectives and the legal and institutional framework to make this asset work for its benefit not only financially but also to advance the region in the areas of science, agriculture, medicines and education. The region must also constantly guard against entering into bilateral, free trade and other agreements which impose obligations which undermine and devalue this asset. Our scientific community must rise to the challenge and work in collaboration with our legal experts and policy makers to advance the process for building the necessary framework. Our scientists must seek to ensure that collaborative research programmes that they embark on and which depend on the use of our rich bio-diversity and associated traditional knowledge contribute to socio-economic development and the advancement of science in the region. August, 2004 Ms Loreen Walker is Executive Director, <http://www.jipo.gov.jm> Jamaica Intellectual Property Office, Kingston, Jamaica References P. Bifani, <http://www.crnm.org/documents/studies/Bifani%20Study.pdf>CARICOM Interests in Relation to Biodiversity and Intellectual Property Rights in the Context of FTAA Negotiations, CRNM/IDB Technical Cooperation Project (ATN/JF/SF-6158-RG) August 2004. C.M. Correa, <http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=186>Bilateral Investment Agreements: Agents of New Global Standards for the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights, GRAIN, 2004. Jamaica National Environment and Planning Agency,<www.nepa.gov.jm/WSSD/Biodiversity/Jamaica_NSAP_BioDiv.pdf>Towards a National Strategy and Action Plan on Biological Diversity in Jamaica, June 2002.