Appropriation Without Representation? The Limited Role of Indigenous Groups in WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore

Veronica Gordon · 16 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 629

Abstract

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore (IGC) is currently engaged in text-based negotiations to develop an international legal instrument, or set of instruments, that will effectively protect traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, and genetic resources. Yet, the people who will arguably be most affected by the ultimate instrument(s)—indigenous peoples and local communities—are not able to fully participate in these negotiations. Instead, WIPO deems them “observers.” They cannot formally present proposals, amendments, or motions, and cannot vote at IGC sessions. Thus, their limited influence implicates questions of equity, sovereignty, and global justice. Claiming to recognize this dilemma, WIPO has created mechanisms to increase these groups’ attendance and participation. However, many argue that these mechanisms are insufficient and that WIPO’s final product will lack legitimacy if indigenous peoples and local communities do not play a genuine role inthe process. This Note explores how the IGC’s current organizational structure limits indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ influence and presents ways for the IGC to more fully incorporate these groups and their ideas while maintaining a member-based organizational structure.