What Is Traditional Knowledge And How To Protect It?

What Is Traditional Knowledge And How To Protect It?

Traditional knowledge – whether it’s the lullaby you learned as a kid or the family recipe that was handed down to you.
Learn how traditional knowledge protection is afforded under IPR laws

Traditional Knowledge and IPR are two terms that we don’t often hear together. While IPR stands for Intellectual Property Rights, Traditional knowledge is something we all possess and tend to take for granted without realising its value. Do you remember those delicious family recipes your grandma claimed she learnt from her grandmother? Do you remember the stories and folk-tales she told you about indigenous tribes and how their life was entirely different from yours? Yes, these are all examples of traditional knowledge – the type of knowledge you’ve imbibed orally and that you will pass on to the coming generations.

Owned collectively by a community, traditional knowledge can take many forms such as songs, stories, proverbs, folklore, beliefs, rituals, local languages, community laws and so on. It can also take a practical form in fields such as agriculture, horticulture, forestry, fisheries, health and environmental management, among other things. For the longest time, traditional knowledge went unprotected. Despite being surrounded by it, we’ve underestimated and undermined its value. While it is quite a challenge, traditional knowledge can now be protected under Intellectual Property Rights. This article highlights what traditional knowledge protection is, how this knowledge base can be protected and the role of Intellectual Property Rights in traditional knowledge protection. Read on to find out.

What is traditional knowledge?What is traditional knowledge?

Traditional knowledge is the knowledge base, skills and practices developed and sustained by local, indigenous and native communities. It has been preserved and passed on from one generation to another and has been the spiritual and cultural identity of that community. 

The simplest examples of traditional knowledge in action are a combination of spices added in a recipe or the time it takes to cook a particular recipe. Indian practices like yoga and Ayurveda are also examples of traditional knowledge. Simply put, traditional knowledge is that knowledge base which has ancient roots and is often shared orally.

Traditional Knowledge Protection

There are three important aspects while understanding traditional knowledge protection :

  • The Need to protect traditional knowledge

    It is incredibly essential to preserve traditional knowledge, especially in these ever-changing times. Protecting traditional knowledge can stop unauthorised, commercial misuse of this knowledge base. If it remains unprotected, indigenous people who are responsible for bringing it to the forefront can end up suffering huge losses, on an emotional as well as a financial level. By protecting traditional knowledge, one can protect and preserve ancient practices.

  • How to protect traditional knowledge?

    Traditional knowledge in IPR is usually protected through two methods – positive protection and defensive mechanism.

  • Positive protection

    Positive protection is the act of providing traditional knowledge holders with the rights to take necessary action and seek remedies against the misuse of the knowledge base. It involves the enactment of specific rules and regulations and laws, as well as access to benefit-sharing provisions, royalty payments, etc.

  • Defensive mechanism

    Defensive mechanism, on the other hand, refers to the steps taken by traditional knowledge owners to prevent the acquisition of their Intellectual Property rights. This knowledge protection method helps traditional knowledge holders protect intellectual property rights that are illegitimately acquired by third parties.

  • The threat to traditional knowledge

    Individuals holding traditional knowledge often end up facing several difficulties. If it remains unprotected, the very survival of the knowledge could be at stake, as it could threaten the culture of communities. Traditional means of maintaining and passing on knowledge to future generations are weakened by several social and environmental factors such as encroaching modern lifestyles, migration, etc. What’s more, traditional knowledge holders do not receive appreciation and respect for their wisdom. With the rapid advancement of science and technology, traditional knowledge often gets overlooked. While modern concepts have replaced our understanding of traditional knowledge, we must give credit where it is due. It is incredibly essential to preserve and protect traditional knowledge.

Traditional knowledge Protection under IPR

Perhaps the most critical aspect of traditional knowledge in IPR is its protection. While there have been several debates about protection under the Intellectual Property regime, there are also several challenges at hand. For instance, it is difficult to determine the Intellectual Property Rights under which traditional knowledge may be protected. It is also challenging to ascertain how traditional knowledge can get continuous protection since every IP protection lasts for only a limited period. Traditional knowledge protection primarily exists to tackle the problem of biopiracy – where traditional knowledge has been used for commercial purposes without proper and prior authorisation of the concerned indigenous community. 

Devising an effective traditional knowledge protection strategy

A traditional knowledge protection strategy must take into account the community as well as the regional, national and international dimensions of IP rights. Moreover, mechanisms implemented to protect traditional knowledge must give unbiased and independent considerations to the original traditional knowledge holders. It is just as critical to address the economic aspects of developing the knowledge base and to ensure that such protection can be accessed, understood and afforded by knowledge holders. The protection afforded should fundamentally be concerned with recognising the rights held by the original knowledge holders and the unauthorised acquisition of rights by third parties.

Conclusion: The only way to ensure that traditional knowledge remains safe is to take the necessary measures to protect it. There is an imminent need to afford adequate traditional knowledge protection to indigenous communities residing in under-developed and developing countries. With globalisation and international co-operation and co-ordination becoming every-day trends, it is has become all the more necessary to protect as well as establish traditional knowledge. Thanks to Intellectual Property Rights, there is hope that traditional knowledge will be preserved.


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