The placebo effect: international patent law and the protection of traditional plant medicine

by Koutouki, Konstantia

Abstract (Summary)
The underlying theme of this thesis is the systemic indifference that exists within international intellectual property law towards Indigenous traditional knowledge. In general, there appears to be a widening gap between the importance international law accords to matters of commercial interest and those of a social nature. Indigenous traditional knowledge of medicinal plants is especially disadvantaged in this dichotomous system since it is not only representative of enormous commercial profits but it is also the core of many Indigenous belief and social systems. The crystallization of international law's preoccupation with the effective protection of commercial interests came in the form of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement incorporated into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Two years previously, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed, reflecting international law's perceived dedication to sustainable development and became the first international treaty to address Indigenous traditional knowledge. These two pieces of international law are often seen as balancing the commercial and sustainable development needs of the international economy. Upon further examination however, one is left the impression that the idea of the CBD effectively and successfully defending the needs of sustainable development and Indigenous traditional knowledge against pressure to the contrary from TRIPS and the WTO is simplistic at best. The thesis also explore the role patent law plays in the creation of modern industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry, and how these industries are able, through the power gained via patent law, to influence national and especially international legislation. Equally, it deals with the role patents play in disempowering peoples with Indigenous traditional knowledge of medicinal plants leading to a situation where such knowledge is marginalized along with its bearers. The thesis addresses the institutional shortcomings of the international legal system that allows such a situation to exist and suggests an urgent need to closely examine the social and economic inequalities within the North and South and not just between them. Finally the thesis suggests that international law needs to be guided by the many legal traditions available worldwide and in this particular case perhaps contract law is better suited to the needs of Indigenous traditional knowledge holders.
This document abstract is also available in French.
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Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:International intellectual property law Trade-related aspects of Convention on biological diversity Indigenous traditional knowledge Pharmaceutical industry Medicinal plants Globalization Contract


Date of Publication:09/01/2007

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