Protecting traditional knowledge

Providing legal protection for intellectual cultural property
Protecting against commercialization of indigenous knowledge

Strengthening traditional knowledge, practices and cultures by protecting and recognizing the value of such systems and preventing their loss. This may be achieved by ensuring that benefits arising from the innovative use of traditional knowledge are equitably shared with those from whom knowledge is gleaned.

Reviewing and where appropriate modifying national policies and legislation to ensure that they support the rights of holders of traditional knowledge. Investigating, through appropriate structures, the development of a system to provide legal protection for collective intellectual property rights.


Technically developed societies have benefited greatly by the knowledge which they have extracted from indigenous, tribal societies, especially those living in the tropical rainforests. Tropical plants, and occasionally animals, have been used to produce many valuable pharmaceutical products; genetic variants of domestic crops have been used to produce increased yields, resistance to disease, and other valuable characteristics. Knowledge of these values of tropical plants has been created and discovered, sometimes at great hazard, over generations of people. The intellectual property so created and cared for is owned and has value. The knowledge has sometimes been extracted from rainforest people by ethnobotanists, anthropologists, and others, in transactions which may be characterized as unjust and illegal. From both moral and legal standpoints there are obligations to compensate people of these tribal societies for this immensely valuable intellectual property. them. Various methods are available for compensation for past injustices and to produce fair transactions in the future.

Western-oriented intellectual property regimes are often at odds with indigenous perceptions of ownership. From a standpoint of information justice, information concerning traditional knowledge, practices and cultures should be used for research only with the consent, cooperation and control of holders of that knowledge. Wherever possible, the use and collection of such knowledge should result in social, economic or environmental benefits to the traditional owners through formal prior informed consent procedures and mutually agreed terms. This may take the form of some sort of royalty fee for the use of cultural symbols, images, formulae and so on.

Traditional healers, farmers, and others holding traditional knowledge will play an especially important role in developing guidelines for the protection and use of traditional knowledge, and procedures for benefit-sharing. In addition, these groups will play a vital monitoring role, to ensure that policies concerning traditional knowledge and benefit-sharing are implemented satisfactorily. This will require improved coordination and mobilization between relevant organisations and individuals.


Indigenous people face a 'Catch-22' situation: if indigenous knowledge is published, it becomes part of the public domain; if it is a trade secret, competition among suppliers drives the price down. The creation of 'oligopolies' or cartels of suppliers of indigenous knowledge could be a way forward.

Constrained by:
Denying cultural rights
Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions