No to patenting of life

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Tue Nov 9 14:41:16 MST 1999

No to patenting of life

The following is the Indigenous Peoples' Statement on the trade-related aspects of
intellectual property rights of the WTO agreement:

We indigenous peoples from around the world believe that nobody can own what exists in
nature except nature herself. A human being cannot own its own mother. Humankind is
part of Mother Nature, we have created nothing, and so we can in no way claim to be
owners of what does not belong to us. But time and again, Western legal property
regimes have been imposed on us, contradicting our own cosmologies and values.

We view with regret and anxiety how Article 27.3b of the Trade-Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreements
will further denigrate and undermine our rights to our cultural and intellectual
heritage, our plant, animal, and even human genetic resources, and discriminate
against our indigenous ways of thinking and behaving.

This Article makes an artificial distinction between plants, animals and
microorganisms, and between essentially biological and microbiological processes for
making plants and animals. As far as we are concerned all these are life forms and
life-creating processes which are sacred, and which should not become the subject of
proprietary ownership.

We know that intellectual property rights as defined in the TRIPS Agreement are
monopoly rights given to individual or legal persons (e.g., transnational
corporations) who can prove that the inventions or innovations they made are novel,
involve an innovative step and are capable of industrial application.

The application of this form of property rights over living things as if they are
mechanical or industrial inventions is inappropriate. Indigenous knowledge and
cultural heritage are collectively and accretionally evolved through generations.
Thus, no single person can claim invention or discovery of medicinal plants, seeds or
other living things.

The inherent conflict between these two knowledge systems and the manner in which they
are protected and used will cause further disintegration of our communal values and
practices. It can also lead to infighting between indigenous communities over who has
ownership over a particular knowledge or innovation. Furthermore, it goes against the
very essence of indigenous spirituality, which regards all creation as sacred.

We are aware of the various implications of the TRIPS Agreement on our lives as
indigenous peoples. It will lead to the appropriation of our traditional medicinal
plants and seeds and our indigenous knowledge on health, agriculture and biodiversity
conservation. It will undermine food security, since the diversity and agricultural
production on which our communities depend would be eroded and would be controlled by
individual, private and foreign interests.

In addition, the agreement will substantially weaken our access to and control over
genetic and biological resources; plunder our resources and territories; and
contribute to the deterioration of our quality of life.

In the review of the Article 27.3b of the TRIPS Agreement, therefore, our proposals
are as follows:

This article should be amended to disallow categorically the patenting of life forms.
It should clearly prohibit the patenting of plants and animals, including all their
parts, meaning, genes, gene sequences, cells, proteins, seeds, etc. It should also
prohibit the patenting of natural processes involving the use of plants, animals and
other living organisms, and their parts and processes used in producing variations of
plants, animals, and micro-organisms.

The provision for the protection of plant varieties by either a patent, a sui generis
system, or a combination of both should amended and elaborated further: It should:

Disallow the use of patents to protect plant varieties.

Ensure that the sui generis system, which may be created, will protect the knowledge
and innovations and practices in farming, agriculture, health and medical care, and
conservation of biodiversity of indigenous peoples and farmers.

Build upon the indigenous methods and customary laws protecting knowledge and heritage
and biological resources.

Ensure that the protection offered to the indigenous and traditional innovation,
knowledge, and practices are consistent with the Convention of Biological Diversity
and the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources.

Allow for indigenous peoples and farmers to continue their traditional practices of
saving, sharing and exchanging seeds; of harvesting, cultivating and using medicinal

Prevent the appropriation and theft of indigenous seeds, medicinal plants, and the
knowledge around the use of these by researchers, academic institutions, corporations,

Integrate the principle and practice of prior informed consent, which means that the
consent of indigenous peoples* as communities or as collectivities, should be obtained
before any research or collection of plants will be undertaken. The right of
indigenous peoples to veto any bioprospecting activity should be guaranteed.
Mechanisms to enforce prior informed consent should be installed.

Prevent the destruction and conversion of indigenous peoples' lands, which are rich in
biodiversity through projects like mines, monocrop commercial plantations, dams, etc.
and recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to these lands.

We urge the WTO Member-States to put the amendment of the TRIPS Agreement as a
priority item in agenda of the forthcoming WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle. In
its present form the agreement will have devastating social and environmental
consequences which will be irreversible. It is an imperative, therefore, that this
agreement be amended to prohibit the patenting of life forms and the piracy of
indigenous peoples' knowledge and resources.

We also call on all the WTO Member-States to work for the extension of the deadline of
the implementation of Article 27.3b of TRIPS to the year 2006, five years after the
completion of the review of this has been done.

Finally, we reiterate our commitment to sustain our struggle to have our rights to our
intellectual and cultural heritage and our lands and resources promoted and protected.
We call on the WTO to become an instrument in promoting our rights instead of enacting
and imposing agreements which are violative or undermining our rights as distinct

- Signed at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, on July 25, l999 by 87 indigenous
peoples organizations, non-governmental organizations and networks

More information about the Marxism mailing list