Updated: Mar 22
Plants play a vital role in human society. People use plants for food, medicine, clothing, and even for spiritual purposes. Since the 1990s, the international community has been engulfed in debates about the commercialization of plant genetic resources and traditional knowledge of the uses of plants. Pharmaceutical companies have developed an intense interest in drug development from plants, particularly those from the Neotropics, which has naturally brought to the surface a number of problems regarding intellectual property rights. The controversy is centered on the legal ownership and control of plant genetic resources and the uncompensated use of associated traditional knowledge. This paper contributes to emerging research in the area of biopiracy and seeks to examine the issue through the context of pharmaceutical companies obtaining patents on medicinal plants and documented associated traditional knowledge of the uses of medicinal plants in indigenous communities. The research is focused on incidents of biopiracy in the Republic of Colombia.
The paper is divided into 9 sections. Section 1 explores medicinal plants, their historical use, and their value to modern society. Section 2 discusses examines bioprospecting activities through the lens of the pharmaceutical industry. Then, in Section 3, the concept of biopiracy is explored followed by Section 4, which reviews the concept of traditional knowledge. Section 5 examines intellectual property rights. More specifically, the legal ownership and control of plant genetic resources as well as the use of patents by the pharmaceutical industry to monopolize biodiversity is explored. Bioprospecting and biopiracy issues are discussed in Section 6, while Section 7 evaluates the international legal framework created to protect biological diversity and traditional knowledge. Section 8 and Section 9 illustrate incidences of biopiracy in Colombia and highlights the legal framework adopted in Colombia to stifle biopiracy and to protect traditional knowledge, respectively. Finally, in Section 10, the paper concludes with a discussion of the status of biopiracy today and the effectiveness of safeguards enacted to protect biodiversity and traditional knowledge from being misappropriated.
The following article published by Civil Eats on March 7, 2023 inspired me to share my research.