World Intellectual Property Organization approves landmark treaty on IP and genetic resources


WIPO Member States have approved a treaty addressing intellectual property (IP), genetic resources, and associated traditional knowledge during a conference in Geneva.

AusBiotech is working with IP Australia following the announcement of the landmark Treaty on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge.

It is the first WIPO Treaty to address the interface between intellectual property, genetic resources, and traditional knowledge and to include provisions specifically for indigenous peoples and local communities.

WIPO said the aim is to “enhance the efficacy, transparency and quality of the patent system” and “prevent patents from being granted erroneously for inventions that are not novel or inventive with regard to genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources”.

Once it enters into force with 15 contracting parties, the Treaty will establish in international law a new disclosure requirement for patent applicants whose inventions are based on genetic resources and/or associated traditional knowledge. The disclosure requirement is set out in Article 3 of the Treaty and requires applicants to disclose the country of origin or the source of the genetic resources.

Article 3 states, where an invention is based on traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, the applicant is required to disclose the indigenous peoples or local community, as applicable, who provided the traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources or, if not known, the source of the traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources. It also states that information is to be provided by the applicant in the form of a declaration affirming that the content of the declaration is true and correct to the best knowledge of the applicant.

Article 4 of the Treaty includes a non-retroactivity clause that the disclosure requirement will not apply to patent applications filed before the Treaty enters into force. The Treaty also contains provisions to allow opportunities to rectify a failure to disclose the required information and to provide that a patent cannot be invalidated solely on the basis of a failure to meet the disclosure requirement.

Negotiations for the Treaty began at WIPO in 2001, initiated in 1999 with a proposal by Colombia.

The Treaty will enter into force three months after 15 Member States of WIPO have deposited their instruments of ratification or accession. This Treaty will remain open for signature by any eligible party at WIPO’s headquarters for one year after its adoption. More information can be found on the WIPO website.

IP Australia has been actively engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other stakeholders to improve its understanding of the issues associated with protecting and managing indigenous knowledge.

Following consultations in 2021, IP Australia is looking at possible changes to the Acts it administers to support the cultural integrity and economic potential of indigenous knowledge held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This includes proposals for system enhancements for trade marks and designs for disclosure of source for patents and plant breeder's rights. See more information here.

AusBiotech said it looks forward to working with IP Australia to understand the impact for Australian innovators while respecting indigenous knowledge.