CARICOM Group Seeks to Protect Traditional Knowledge


A CARICOM working group on traditional knowledge (TK), traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) and genetic resources is currently on a fact-finding mission in Jamaica.
The group is made up of representatives from the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) and several of their counterparts from across the region.
The aim of the group is to determine the best method of protecting the traditional knowledge that is specific and particular to Jamaica and other Caribbean countries, which has been in use for several generations.
Executive Director of JIPO, Carol Simpson, says that there are no international norms that protect these rights, hence the decision to set up of several working groups by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to examine the issue.
As part of the group’s efforts, a public forum was held Tuesday (June 23) at the Hotel Four Seasons, Ruthven Road in Kingston to facilitate discussions with members of the public.
During the forum, WIPO consultant and member of the working group, Mary-Ann Richards, explained that there are many challenges to developing international rules on TK and TCEs.
“TK is community ownership, it’s oral tradition, most times not documented. It’s creation over long periods of time; very few people can go back and say this was created on the sixth of March, 1800. It’s created by many different actors, all of them creating and improving, and the rights are held in perpetuity,” she said.

Members of a CARICOM working group on Traditional Knowledge, Hariette Vreedzaam-Joeroeja of Suriname (left) and Sharon LeGall of Trinidad and Tobago, are engaged in a discussion during a public forum hosted by the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO), at the Hotel Four Seasons in Kingston on June 23. The working group is currently on a fact-finding mission to Jamaica.

While the group is seeking to identify TK and TCEs, Ms. Richards stressed that the project is not about assigning rights for TK, nor about dividing up TK.
“I think it is more a sense of preventing somebody from stealing it or blocking you (from using it),” she said.
One of the suggestions coming out of the discussions was that a registry of plants endemic to Jamaica needs to be set up, to ensure Jamaica’s rights to the use of these plants are protected.
On Monday, the group met with members of the Rastafarian community. On Wednesday (June 24), they will pay a courtesy call on Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Karl Samuda, under whose Ministry the subject of intellectual property rights falls. In the afternoon they will visit Charlestown to meet with the Maroons there.
The working group is carrying out similar missions across the Caribbean, and it is expected that the results from all the missions will be included in a report, with recommendations for protection, that will be submitted to Governments across the region. The Governments will consider the report, in the hope of agreeing on measures to be put in place to prevent the misappropriation or misuse of the knowledge, information and genetic resources of Caribbean countries.
The Executive Director of JIPO says the group is also hoping that the Caribbean can influence the discussions within WIPO.
She said that the region wants the paper, that will emerge from the discussions, to be presented to WIPO’s inter-governmental committee, which meets annually to discuss these issues.

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