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The Uneasy Case for Intellectual Property Rights in Traditional Knowledge


Stephen R. Munzer


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Kal Raustiala


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

April 30, 2009

Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 27, pp. 37-97, 2009
UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 09-16

Abstract:     
Should traditional knowledge - the understanding or skill possessed by indigenous peoples pertaining to their culture and folklore and their use of native plants for medicinal purposes - receive protection as intellectual property? This Article examines nine major arguments from the moral, political and legal philosophy of property for intellectual property rights and contends that, as applied to traditional knowledge (TK), they justify at most a modest package of rights under domestic and international law. The arguments involve desert based on labor; firstness; stewardship; stability; moral right of the community; incentives to innovate; incentives to commercialize; unjust enrichment, misappropriation and restitution; and infringement and dilution. These arguments do, however, support “defensive” protection for TK: that is, halting the use of TK by nonindigenous actors in obtaining patents and copyrights. These arguments also support the dissemination of TK on the internet and via other digital media and the selective use of trademarks. The force of these conclusions resides in the importance of a vibrant public domain, and the absence of any plausible limiting principle that would allow more robust rights in TK for indigenous groups without permitting equally robust rights for nonindigenous groups.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 62

Keywords: copyright, digital, indigenous peoples, intellectual property, international law, legal philosophy, patent, property, public domain, restitution, trademark, trade secret, traditional knowledge

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Date posted: May 1, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Munzer, Stephen R. and Raustiala, Kal, The Uneasy Case for Intellectual Property Rights in Traditional Knowledge (April 30, 2009). Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 27, pp. 37-97, 2009; UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 09-16. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1397367

Contact Information

Stephen R. Munzer (Contact Author)
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
(310) 825-1332 (Phone)
(310) 206-7010 (Fax)
Kal Raustiala
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-794-4856 (Phone)
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