Intellectual Property and Rights

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind such as inventions, all forms of literacy, artistic works, designs, including tradition-based creations, methodologies and the associated knowledge that are important for the management and sustainable use of genetic resources. The rights over such creations of the mind are what are known as intellectual property rights (IPRs).

The preservation, management and sustainable use of genetic resources and the associated knowledge and the equitable sharing of benefits of such resources and knowledge are some of the hottest IPR issues today (see World Intellectual Property Organization [WIPO].

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) [CBD], a framework for action, in its articles, gave due rights to farmers, communities and governments over plant and animal genetic resources (e.g. livestock and poultry and strains). Under this Convention, the efforts of farmers and the community in the development of such resources, especially distinct livestock breeds and strains and products thereof, form an integral part of intellectual property. The CBD recommended that legal frameworks and institutions be put in place in each contracting party (countries) and where such institutions already exist, they be strengthened so as to facilitate due protection, and promotion of such rights, including the development, optimal exploitation and equitable sharing of the benefits derived from such exploitations as a binding principle.

The Convention's interests are advanced, governed and implemented by Conference of Parties (COP) through meetings and negotiation fora, where procedural and substantive decisions take place. Access to the Convention's related information is done through what is referred to as 'The clearing-house'.

The Convention also established and promoted institutional arrangements which provided mechanisms for further development of and for monitoring the implementation of the ideals of the CBD through meetings, programme review, capacity building and negotiations, thereby enhancing Trade related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and other international institutional support for the same.

In the absence of country specific policies and legal frameworks, the noble benefits of the international agreements, including the CBD framework remain unrealisable and operationally toothless provisions. More important, is the need to create awareness among stakeholders as to their respective rights, especially the existing legal provisions and structures that are put in place to operationalise the important agreements and clauses.

Development of decision-support tools that would assist in the identification of policy constraints to the conservation and sustainable use of indigenous livestock and sharing these with all developing nations is an important step in ensuring that relevant policy and legal and regulatory frameworks are formulated and facilitated to address the constraints and improve opportunities for poor livestock keepers to derive increased benefits from their livestock.

All the countries, be it through regional or inter-country agreements and treaties have to formulate far-reaching rules/policies or enact laws, on management, transfers, benefit sharing and acquisition of germplasm. It is left to the respective individual and regional governments to make appropriate policies and legal frameworks to realise the noble CBD provisions. The extent to which issues such as 'prior informed consent' (PIC); 'mutually agreed terms' (MAT), Germplasm Acquisition Agreements (GAA) and Germplasm Transfer Agreements (GTA) are fully understood by the various stakeholders in the livestock industry is not clear. Similarly, the extent to which such provisions and clauses may currently and in future hinder or foster the sharing of livestock germplasm among the various stakeholders and countries in developing countries remains unclear and highly debatable. The extent to which the intellectual property related issues are legally supported would either impede or catalyse how the CBD provisions could both restrict and enhance benefit sharing, genetic improvement and wider utilisation of indigenous livestock germplasm within developing countries.