Intellectual property and the environment

The Trade and Environment Committee has mainly focused on the relationship between the WTO’s intellectual property agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a subject discussed at greater length in the intellectual property council.

Intellectual property in the WTO is known as “TRIPS” — trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.

The links between the TRIPS Agreement and the environment are complex and many of the issues involved are contentious. Discussions on these issues are mainly taking place in the TRIPS Council and in consultations on “outstanding implementation issues” — a set of concerns that developing countries and others have raised about the implementation of the present WTO agreements.

These discussions now come under the 2001 Doha ministerial mandate. The Doha Ministerial Declaration mandated the Trade and Environment Committee to look at the relevant provisions of the TRIPS Agreement.

Since then, the committee’s discussions have mainly revolved around the relationship between the WTO TRIPS Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

On this, three main views have been expressed in the Trade and Environment Committee. A group of developing countries, with wide support from other developing countries, have reiterated their proposal on amending the TRIPS Agreement to require patent applications to disclose the source of biological materials (and any traditional knowledge) used in the inventions. The aim is twofold:

  • to avoid patents being issued for inventions that are not genuinely new (“erroneous patents”)

  • to help ensure that inventors have complied with countries’ regulations on receiving permission to access the biological resources and on sharing the benefits with the owners of those resources

Some others take the view that the case has not been made and that such a proposal is either necessary or appropriate in achieving the shared objectives in this area, which can be most effectively realized in other ways without involving the patent system.

In between these two positions, support has been expressed for a more limited patent disclosure requirement at the international level, restricted to the origin or source of genetic material and related traditional knowledge and without substantive implications for patentability.

> Details of these proposals
> Additional explanation