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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Protecting Traditional Knowledge

By Dennis Kipkirui

Traditional Knowledge is knowledge,innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It is intangible knowledge held by local community and indigenous knowledge held by indeginous communities.It is mostly embedded in traditional knowledge systems which each community has developed,maintained and passed on from one generation to another in its local context. It is evolving all the time as individuals and communities take up the challenges presented by their social and physical environment.Unfortunately this knowledge is being eroded at a higher rate than it is being passed on to the next generation partly due to the changing lifestyles and influence of western culture. 

In Kenya most communities are not aware of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and Access Permit among other formal measures and mechanisms they should take in order to protect their Traditional Knowledge.They lack the capacity to file patents and other IP applications.They are not aware of the existence of goverment IP offices and do not know how to protect their knowledge.In most cases individuals within a community prefer to protect their knowledge under secrecy.

Most communities in Kenya have not formed Community Based Organisations(CBOs) and those that have formed do not have sustainable management structures that can support effective protection of IPs in Traditional Knowledge.Although some have organized cultural and social hierarchy,most of them do not have social organizational structures that could be approached by researchers,bioprospects or any other visitor to the territory for Prior Informed Consent(PIC) and benefit sharing negotiations. The lack of registered CBOs with members, officials and patrons governed by well constituted rules and regulations makes it easy for visitors to enter and access knowledge without proper access permit or PIC.

Communities should utilize the existing IP and other mechanisms to protect their Traditional Knowledge.This will give them an upper hand in negotiating for research and commercial licensing agreements.The other option is for the community to establish community structures such as CBOs,NGOs or self-help groups that will enable them protect,own and manage IP on behalf of the members.It is also important to document IP in public registries and scientific journals to expose them to the international community for contacts and deal making.However, it may also expose them to knowledge on biopiracy.Private community registers can serve as informal databases for use as references to prevent loss of Traditional Knowledge.

Where possible communities should sign collaborative agreements with research organisations and resources managers for conservation of their resources. This will not only build their capacity but also provide direct revenue and opportunity for co-ownership of IPRs. All materials leaving the community must be accompanied by spellings of dos and don’ts. Any person visiting the community for research or commercial venture must be given PIC signed by the chairman or the appointed community elder in liason with a relevant goverment organization. A simple agreement of MoU must be signed between the community representantive and the visitor.

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