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Les savoirs traditionnels médicinaux pillés par le droit des brevets ?


  • Choralyne Dumesnil


Within a North/South dichotomy, traditional medicinal knowledge has been typically misappropriated by northern laboratories around the world ; plundered by a legal tool : patent. Drawing from a description of what is usually understood as biopiracy, this article will look precisely at the action of patent over traditional medicinal knowledge in order to take seriously the purpose of protecting traditional medicinal knowledge. The concept of protection has different conceptions that can be categorized within two groups (not mutually exclusive) : one that understands protection as a commitment to conserve and prevent, another that associates protection to appropriation, exclusion and reservation. The requirement of protecting traditional medicinal knowledge has been an answer to the harm that was experienced from biopiracy. From a long term perspective, taking protection seriously requires more than a shield. The in-depth analysis of patent law in its interaction with traditional medicinal knowledge shows radical opposition characterized by the explicit exclusion of traditional medicinal knowledge within patent law, as it offers the view of an attempt to protect a body of knowledge built over an epistemology radically contrasting the kind of objects protected by patent law so far. Yet, this encounter compels one to recognize the innovative process at the core of a tradition that is still alive. If one recognizes the possibility of the occurrence of invention within the scope of tradition, the usual novelty criteria of patent law needs to be sharpened as to whether or not it will consider it within its scope. Biopiracy cases have highlighted spaces within the patent system that reserved inventions that were, after review not to be protected. Among most biopiracy cases, no patent has ever been revoked in order to protect traditional medicinal knowledge itself but rather, because the novelty requirement of patent law was not fulfilled (which is not to say that there is no novelty within tradition), leaving a space to patent inventions derived from traditional medicinal knowledge that would fulfill such requirements. In the midst of diverse attempts to provide tools in order to protect traditional medicinal knowledge, the role of activism remains cardinal in order to prevent misappropriation, failures from the patent system. The importance of this follow up activity is also taken seriously by some governments (like in India) that invest in opposition procedure around the world in order to prevent misappropriation of knowledge from their communities. Representative of Countries from the South have also advocated for a reinforced disclosure requirement that is now included in different national laws and have been discussed in front of the Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights council in order to protect this knowledge. Looking at the evolution of practices in this sphere one will see that more and more inventions derived from traditional medicinal knowledge are patented. At that point they seem to fulfill the patentability requirement, but is the goal of protection achieved once a private actor reserves an invention for twenty years of commercial exploitation, without necessarily sharing the profits of his activity, knowing that the invention will thereafter fall within the scope of the public domain of patent law therefore won’t be under the control of any traditional knowledge holder ? The emerging practice compels one to focus on the need to adopt a management perspective if the purpose of protecting traditional medicinal knowledge is to be achieved. The conjunction of interpretation of the Convention on national biodiversity and patent law is one step that requires a commitment at the domestic level to organize the implementation of the legal mechanism sketched out at the international level. The purpose of patent law is not to protect traditional medicinal knowledge. Yet, it can be held responsible for its failures and can be – and is being – adjusted. Finally the trend to patent inventions derived from traditional medicinal knowledge compels the politic to secure the rights of the community holder of this knowledge, identify them and set up models of decentralized management already available if, in this setting, the purpose of substantial protection is to be actually achieved

Suggested Citation

  • Choralyne Dumesnil, 2012. "Les savoirs traditionnels médicinaux pillés par le droit des brevets ?," Revue internationale de droit économique, De Boeck Université, vol. 0(3), pages 321-343.
  • Handle: RePEc:cai:riddbu:ride_257_0321

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