IP watch: UNCTAD: IPRs In Health, Research, Cosmetics, Meet Access & Benefit Sharing
The interactions between intellectual property and international rules of global access and benefit sharing were explored recently as an expert group meeting was convened by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to explore several areas where those interactions occur.
The Ad Hoc Expert Group Meeting on the Development Dimensions of Intellectual Property: Biological Diversity and Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), was convened by UNCTAD on 16-17 April. Several panels shed light on IP and ABS in particular areas, such as natural ingredients used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and pandemic influenza preparedness.
Maria Julia Oliva, senior advisor on ABS for the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT), said the UEBT manages an internationally recognised standard: the Ethical BioTrade Standard, under which companies commit to ethical sourcing practices.
Benefit sharing is a critical part of sustainable work with biodiversity, she said, in particular because it empowers producers and their communities, allows long-term partnerships, offers recognition of rights over resources and knowledge, and promotes sustainable development at the local level.
Traditionally, the cosmetic and perfume industries have not been strong users of the patent system, she said, but the trend is changing with a growing number of patents in those fields.
Patents are being used in this sector as companies try to protect their research on the efficacy of ingredients and to protect certain areas or product types for which they are well known.
The concerns from governments and civil society on the use of patents relate to the lack of disclosure of the origin of the plants used for the invention, and the fact that often traditional knowledge (TK) is not mentioned in patent applications. Other concerns relate to patents that have been taken on existing resources, not showing any innovation, including in relation to TK, and often with very broad claims on natural ingredients.
There is a need for awareness-raising, she said. UEBT found that it is important to reconsider the role of patents, and develop patent policies and criteria for patent use. UEBT developed principles on patents and biodiversity, based on CBD objectives and principles, which recognise that patents need to support the CBD objectives.