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International treaty agreed on handling genetics in patents

Image: Stuart Westmorland, via Getty Images

World Intellectual Property Organization signs first new treaty in a decade

A global treaty has been agreed that says applicants for patents involving genetic resources, such as drugs based on a substance produced by a plant, must reveal the origins of those genetic resources.

Patent applicants will be required to disclose the country of origin or source of the genetic resources under the treaty approved by member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (Wipo) on 24 May.

They must also disclose any basis on Indigenous knowledge.

It is the first Wipo Treaty to be agreed in more than 10 years and also the first that includes genetic resources and Indigenous knowledge.

‘Best possible compromise’

Wipo director general Daren Tang said that the treaty “made history in many ways”. He said it was “showing that the intellectual property system can continue to incentivise innovation while evolving in a more inclusive way, responding to the needs of all countries and their communities”.

Brazilian ambassador Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, who brought the gavel down on the agreement, called the treaty “a very carefully balanced outcome”.

“It constitutes the best possible compromise and a carefully calibrated solution, which seeks to bridge and to balance a variety of interests, some very passionately held and assiduously expressed and defended over the course of decades,” he said. Negotiations on the treaty started in 2001.

Member states cheered and applauded as the treaty was agreed on Friday last week. Wipo has 139 member countries, including the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany, France and the UK.