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Sui Generis: Banking on traditional know-how

Traditional knowledge applied in agriculture, medicine and biodiversity have been possessed and passed on to generations unknown. Sui Generis IPR is designed to protect the creations created by using such knowledge, says Parimal Kowtal.
The Latin term Sui Generis means only one of its kind or class - also, quoted with reference to uniqueness or peculiarity. The intellectual property rights (IPR) law uses the term Sui Generis to describe the protection of intellectual property (IP) beyond the boundaries of traditional intellectual property right protection addressed through Trademark, Copyright, Patent, and Industrial Design. Sui Generis term is specifically designed to address the needs and concerns of an issue in particular.
The Sui Generis intellectual property protection right protects the creations created by using traditional knowledge (TK), traditional cultural expressions (TCEs), folklore, genetic resources (GRs) and craft based design. Sui Generis also protects certain creations of plant varieties, integrated circuit designs and databases.
TK, TCEs and GRs
A vast and rich traditional and cultural heritage spreads across the length and breadth of the globe. Traditions and knowledge 
culminated with science and technology for applications in agriculture, medicine and biodiversity have been possessed and passed on to generations unknown. Every country’s national intellectual property rights policy fosters in promoting traditional knowledge (TK), traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) and genetic resources (GRs) through awareness for protection and human capital development with an emphasis on the socio-economic growth of the society.
The traditional knowledge (TK) developed and sustained in the form of know-how, skills and practices, passed-on from generations within a community, thus forming the integral part of cultural and spiritual identity of the respective community. The innovative ecological, mechanical and scientific applications of traditional knowledge are observed in agriculture, medicine and biodiversity.
The innovations based on traditional knowledge are usually passed on to the next generations verbally, through observations and hands-on practical experience, hence, out of the bounds of conventional intellectual property protection system.
However, the confidentiality of the traditional knowledge can be protected as trade secret and further through trademark, patent, geographical indication or appellation of origin.
The artistic and cultural expressions in the form of music, dance, architecture, ceremonies, handicrafts, symbols and distinctive signs are associated with traditional cultural expressions (TCEs). Folklore expressions or TCEs are embedded in culture and heritage of the community. The know-how and skills transmit core values and beliefs along-with the social identity of the community.
TCEs are indigenous expressions for the promotion and preservation of cultural heritage of the community. With legal and policy issues in IP, TCEs can be protected through trademarks (TM), geographical indication (GI), copyright and related rights (CRRR) and other compliances in the existing IP protection system.
Animals and plants are not the creations of human mind. Medicinal plants, agricultural crops and animal breeds are genetic resources (GRs) due to their heredity or microbial origin, hence an invaluable asset. Occurrence of GRs is natural, they cannot be protected directly under the existing Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) law. However, the inventions based on traditional knowledge and plant varieties developed using GRs may be patented or protected by Plant Breeders Rights.
World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) is negotiating international legal instruments across the globe to ensure effective enforcement for the protection of traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources.
About the Author:
Parimal Kowtal is visiting faculty (IPR) in Department of Electronic Science, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune. For details, contact him on email:


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