Biotechnology, Indigenous Peoples, and Intellectual Property Rights [April 16, 1993]   [open pdf - 4MB]

"Plant and animal species are estimated to become extinct as a result of natural processes at a rate of one to ten species a year. But human activities and the destruction of habitat are calculated to increase the extinction rate to 10,000-150,000 species a year. This process threatens the gene pool base that is important for food crops, undermines ecological balance, raises moral concerns about humankind's relationship with other species, adversely affects the development of new products useful to the modern world, and causes the demise of indigenous peoples dependent upon their immediate habitat. Several decades ago pharmaceutical companies and government research agencies devoted substantial efforts to screening plants and animals for useful medicinal properties. But the lack of widespread success and government budget cuts led to a decline in biodiversity screening in the 1970s in favor of efforts to synthesize new drugs in the laboratory. Now there has been a resurgence of interest in biodiversity screening. That resurgence has also been accompanied by a concern in some quarters to involve indigenous peoples in the screening process. […] Developing countries that host most indigenous peoples have generally subordinated protection for intellectual property to concerns about rapid economic development. The rights of indigenous peoples are as yet ill-defined. Existing and proposed international agreements pertaining to intellectual property provide little support for the notion. And the requirements of U.S. patent law that an invention be novel, useful, non-obvious, and not be a product of nature appear to be insuperable obstacles to any domestic protection for such knowledge."

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CRS Report for Congress, 93-478
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