The EU must combat the "biopiracy" of multinationals that exploit plants with medicinal properties and traditional remedies originating from developing countries but fail to share the profits with indigenous peoples, say MEPs in a resolution adopted by a show of hands on Tuesday.
Biopiracy - the practice of patenting and marketing the use of traditional knowledge and genetic resources of indigenous peoples without authorization from source countries - can impede the economic progress of developing countries and runs counter to EU development policy goals, says the resolution, which notes that 70% of the world’s poor depend directly on biodiversity for their survival and well-being.
"Ninety percent of the world's biological heritage is found in developing countries, yet the vast majority of patents are held by developed ones. Our rules for using natural resources and traditional knowledge are very ill-defined and companies exploit this legal uncertainty to use traditional knowhow. The EU must help to ensure that benefits are shared fairly, in line with its commitment to combat poverty", underlined author of the resolution Catherine Grèze (Greens, FR).
Lack of legal protection
Although there are international agreements to protect indigenous peoples’ rights to their genetic resources and traditional knowledge, there are no mechanisms to enforce them. Existing intellectual property law can even have adverse effects, as it assesses traditional knowledge solely from a mercantile point of view, say MEPs.
To prevent biopiracy, MEPs urge that the grant of a patent be made conditional upon a requirement to disclose the origin of genetic resources and traditional knowledge used in inventions and provide evidence of consent from authorities in the provider country and also evidence of fair benefit sharing.
How can the EU help?
The EU should not push developing countries into trade agreements that entail far-reaching intellectual property standards, as these do not currently meet the needs of traditional knowledge holders, say MEPs. The EU should help developing countries to build legal and institutional mechanisms and understand patent application systems, they add.
MEPs welcome a recent proposal by European Commission to implement the Nagoya Protocol which aims to protect the rights of countries and local communities that allow their genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge to be used.
Procedure: Non-legislative resolution