The Intergovernmental Committee: A Brief Overview

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WIPO delegates at the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore. (Photo: WIPO)

The Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (commonly referred to as simply “the [Intergovernmental] Committee” or “the I.G.C.”) is a department of the World Intellectual Property Organization (W.I.P.O.).  Its mandate is to draft, negotiate, and implement formal international text-based legal structures that protect the authors and rights-holders of traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, and genetic resources from having these categories of intellectual property exploited or otherwise misused by outside parties.

“Traditional knowledge” refers to knowledge, skills, practices, and inventions that are developed, sustained, and passed down through the generations within indigenous communities throughout the world.  Often found in agricultural, scientific, technical, ecological, medicinal, or biodiversity contexts, this form of intellectual property often constitutes at least a partial manifestation of a given indigenous community’s cultural or spiritual identity.

“Traditional cultural expressions” refer to both practical and recreational/spiritual artistic creations and practices that are passed down through the generations within the world’s indigenous communities.  These may include music, dances, rituals and ceremonies, visual arts and crafts, linguistic constructs (such as names, signs, and symbols), architecture, and oral or performative histories.  Commonly collectively known as “folklore” (or “expressions of folklore”), they form an integral part of the cultural and social identities and values of particular indigenous communities.

“Genetic resources” refer to hereditary traits discovered in plants, animals, microbes, or other sources that are potentially or evidently useful to humans.  These include certain plants that are edible or have medicinal qualities, or certain breeds of livestock that are hardier or produce more food.  Genetic information is a natural phenomenon and not a creation of the human mind, and so it cannot be protected as intellectual property as such.  However, inventions or breeding practices based on these genetic traits, usually associated with “traditional knowledge” as discussed above, are products of the human mind, and so can be subject to patenting or other related intellectual property rights.

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