Historic Breakthrough: WIPO Approves New Treaty on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, and Traditional Knowledge

In a momentous decision, member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have approved a groundbreaking new Treaty addressing intellectual property (IP), genetic resources, and associated traditional knowledge. This historic breakthrough marks the culmination of decades of negotiations, with the consensus achieved during the Diplomatic Conference held from May 13 to 24, 2024. The assembled delegates celebrated this landmark achievement with enthusiastic applause, recognizing the significance of this new legal framework.


This Treaty is unprecedented as it is the first to address the intersection of intellectual property, genetic resources, and traditional knowledge. Additionally, it includes specific provisions for Indigenous Peoples and local communities, highlighting the inclusive approach taken by WIPO. The Treaty will introduce a new disclosure requirement for patent applicants whose inventions are based on genetic resources and/or associated traditional knowledge.


WIPO Director General Mr. Daren Tang welcomed the adoption of the Treaty and stated, “Today we made history in many ways. This is not just the first new WIPO Treaty in over a decade but also the first one that deals with genetic resources and traditional knowledge held by Indigenous Peoples as well as local communities. Through this, we are showing that the IP system can continue to incentivize innovation while evolving in a more inclusive way, responding to the needs of all countries and their communities.”


In essence, the treaty mandates that patent applications for inventions based on genetic resources must disclose the country of origin or source of these resources. Similarly, if an invention is based on traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, the applicants must disclose the Indigenous Peoples or local community who provided this knowledge. Genetic resources, such as medicinal plants, agricultural crops, and animal breeds, are integral to many innovations. While these resources themselves cannot be directly protected as intellectual property, inventions derived from them can be, typically through patents. Traditional knowledge associated with these resources, often preserved by Indigenous Peoples and local communities over generations, plays a crucial role in scientific research and innovation. This Treaty represents a significant step towards recognizing and protecting the contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the realm of intellectual property, ensuring a more equitable and inclusive IP system for the future.


India has indeed been proactive in safeguarding its traditional knowledge, with the Patent Act ,1970 laying down provisions to support and protect this invaluable heritage. One of the key aspects of this Act is its prohibition of direct patenting on traditional knowledge, ensuring that these traditional practices remain accessible to all. Moreover, the Act mandates that patent applicants must disclose the source of any biological material used in their applications, reinforcing transparency and accountability in the patenting process. With the approval of this new WIPO Treaty on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, and Traditional Knowledge, India’s commitment to preserving traditional knowledge is further underscored on the international stage. This Treaty not only aligns with India’s existing patent laws but also strengthens its position as a global advocate for the protection of traditional knowledge and cultural heritage. By upholding these principles at the international level, India continues to champion inclusivity and respect for diverse cultural perspectives in the field of intellectual property.