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Protecting indigenous knowledge

Marinova, D. (2005) Protecting indigenous knowledge. In: MODSIM05 - International Congress on Modelling and Simulation: Advances and Applications for Management and Decision Making, 12 - 15 December, Melbourne, Australia pp. 2326-2333.

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The controversies surrounding intellectual property protection are most obvious when it comes to protecting indigenous knowledge. The firmly entrenched patenting laws in the developed world provide recognition and economic monopoly to individual inventors. Consequently, large and small companies have been able to appropriate the economic benefits from the technological knowledge protected through patents. Many of them however have exploited knowledge that has existed in indigenous cultures for thousands of years. An example of this is the neem tree, well renown for its properties since ancient times. The paper argues that the current models for protecting intellectual property cannot be used for indigenous knowledge. Firstly, indigenous knowledge is holistic by nature and collectively owned; and secondly, an appropriate protection model should allow for maintaining the cultural and physical environment that has generated indigenous knowledge. After examining the failure of the patent system to recognise indigenous input (using examples from the US Patent and Trademark Office data), the analysis in the paper is directed towards exploring alternative models for indigenous intellectual property protection. The world-first case study of indigenous intellectual accreditation through the partnership between Mt Romance (Australian sandalwood company), Aveda (US-based multinational cosmetics corporation) and the Kutkabubba community (represented by the Songman Circle of Wisdom), is presented. The accreditation allows for the indigenous people to be recognised as traditional owners of the land, and for their care and knowledge about the sandalwood trees. It also gives them a share of the profits made from the contemporary use of the pure sandalwood oil. The paper concludes that sustainability provides a conceptual framework for a change in the model of protecting intellectual property. This implies that appropriate policies should be put in place for businesses to re-examine their value systems and feel responsible towards the community. Indigenous sustainability, in particular, requires addressing the disadvantages experienced by indigenous people in all aspects of society. A new intellectual property model should reflect care for the economic, social and environmental aspects of the world where indigenous knowledge is created.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy
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