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SA indigenous knowledge bill could warrant back payments

South Africa's Department of Science and Technology seeks feedback on a proposed bill to regulate indigenous knowledge systems. The bill was gazetted on 20 March.

The legislation seeks the “protection, promotion, development and management of indigenous knowledge systems”. But it could have wider ramifications, including the creation of government departments, as well as introducing punitive measures and claims for knowledge that end up in commercial or industrial innovations without appropriate compensation.

The bill seeks to establish a National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office and a 10-person advisory panel appointed by the science minister. The office would be responsible for accreditation and protection of indigenous knowledge.

The powers of the NIKSO would be both forward-looking and redemptive as a specific function is to “facilitate redress” of any indigenous knowledge with commercial appeal. Its mandate would extend to indigenous knowledge that existed both before and after the bill was passed.

The term ‘indigenous knowledge’ in the bill is wide-ranging and includes biological resources and ecosystems, scientific, technical and spiritual knowledge, as well as indigenous environmental resources.

Natural resources include “any materials and components that can be found within the environment and may exist as a separate entity such as genetic resources, freshwater, air, and mineral deposits with actual or potential use or value”.

Use and reuse of indigenous knowledge, for example by researchers, would be regulated by NIKSO and consent given only after consultation with the indigenous knowledge accreditation holders.

“Any person who intends to have access to indigenous knowledge systems for the purpose of scientific, commercial and industrial applications must submit an application to NIKSO for consent,” the bill reads.

Parties found guilty of misuse of indigenous knowledge could receive penalties ranging from warnings or fines to the seizure of all products using the disputed IP.

A mediation committee consisting of NIKSO members and indigenous communities would be set up to evaluate disputes in individual cases.

Comments can be emailed to Shuma Pango at Shumi.pango@dst.gov.za until 20 May.

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