What is Intellectual Property (IP) and how can it be protected?

Traditional Knowledge (TK) provides “indigenous peoples and local communities with a sense of identity. It is continuously evolving and dynamic, holistic in its conception and is a strong component of the cultural heritage of indigenous a peoples and local communities” (WIPO, 21). Intellectual Property (IP) which is legally protected TK by indigenous peoples, local communities and some governments, is defined as “forms of creativity and innovation, such as traditional remedies and indigenous paintings and music” (WIPO, 6). We safeguard this information in order to preserve TK and IP for future generations, establishing IP rights to the community and/or increasing cultural preservation and sustainability. This purpose is carefully determined through direct interaction with each community and is outlined in our detailed and continuously evolving agreements with the community members. Because the documentation process alone may alter the indigenous peoples rights to recorded materials, it is vital to our mission to safeguard the knowledge of traditional medicine and encourage its continued use in the most vulnerable communities by being involved solely in community-driven projects. (WIPO, 2012)

The Herbal Anthropology Project (HAP) utilizes the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Traditional Knowledge Documentation framework to support vulnerable communities in the protection of their indigenous medicine, helping to protect their health sovereignty. By collaborating directly with the indigenous communities throughout the documentation process, the community retains legal ownership of their intellectual property. The WIPO outlines three critically important processes that must be followed in order to protect this vulnerable information effectively: “consultation (with and among indigenous peoples or local communities), participation (of indigenous peoples representatives or local communities) and prior informed consent (PIC) from indigenous peoples and local communities, before TK is even identified, selected, collected and organized” (WIPO, 12).

Before documentation takes place HAP needs to be asked directly by the indigenous communities to help them document their medicines, obtaining prior informed consent (PIC) by building an environment of trust, ensuring that there is a mutual understanding of all expectations by both parties, and discuss any existing guidelines, laws, regulations or policies already in place that may affect the documentation and ownership of TK. Through extensive conversations and collaborative evaluations with the indigenous community members we can determine HAP’s value to support documentation, the benefit it will bring the community members, long term expectations and how HAP can best help protect their TK and IP. “Participation in indigenous peoples and local communities in documentation processes should be: continuous, informed, timely, balanced, reported, inclusive, facilitated, respectful, non coercive and based on an “intercultural dialogue approach” and good faith” (WIPO, 24). At any point indigenous people and local community members can say no to any part of the process.

During documentation we translate the information into material form via written language through spoken traditions, stories and films. Because whoever writes down TK knowledge may be deemed the legal knowledge holder, we are able to make sure that the indigenous communities retain ownership by keeping all projects community-driven. After documentation we protect the information by utilizing a secure database that has limited access and keeps formal records on registered users. Each community has the ability to determine whether the information will be placed in the published book or secured safe for future generations use and reference.