What is biopiracy?

© Florian Kopp
Biopiracy designates the illegitimate appropriation of genetic resources and/or associated traditional knowledge.

There are two types of biopiracy

  • Illegal access: This is characterised by practices contravening the principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and/or its implementation in national legislation. The CBD entrusts each country with the management of its genetic resources and requires a fair and equitable sharing of any rewards arising from the use of resources or associated traditional knowledge. To guarantee such sharing, any person or institution wishing to access genetic resources must obtain Prior Informed Consent (PIC) from the owner. Moreover, any rewards arising from the use of such resources, or associated traditional knowledge, must be shared in a fair and equitable manner between the parties, known as Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). If these rules are infringed, this is defined as biopiracy.
  • Legal access: This relates to the right to intellectual property. Many non-governmental organisations in fact consider as biopiracy an application for a patent on a plant – or for the simple application of traditional knowledge – where this does not represent an innovation or inventive activity. Using such patents, industry seizes the natural characteristics of genetic resources or traditional knowledge from the southern countries. In such cases, the burden of proof lies with the injured parties, who often have neither the financial means or legal knowledge to initiate a procedure for the re-examination of the patent.