"Just" Sharing: The Virtues of Digital Sequence Information Benefit-Sharing for the Common Good

54 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2022 Last revised: 22 Mar 2022

Date Written: December 14, 2021


Genome sequence information is being used to develop improvements in diverse product areas from agriculture to therapeutics. In fact, the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines required access to the genome sequence of the virus. Beyond the COVID-19 context, however, vast amounts of what is being called digital sequence information (DSI) are being used, and patented, without permission from the countries that own the genetic resources from which the sequences are derived. This issue is stymieing negotiations in several international fora, including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Nagoya Protocol. These treaties obligate users of genetic resources to share the benefits of resource utilization with the resource providers. But parties disagree profoundly on whether these obligations extend to DSI. And as DSI often obviates the need for access to tangible material, monetary benefits are likely to decline even further.

This Article identifies challenges to and opportunities for achieving “just” sharing outcomes on DSI under the CBD and Nagoya Protocol and argues for the development of a global multilateral benefit sharing mechanism as a more just and efficient vehicle for compliance with benefit-sharing obligations while retaining open access to sequence information. The prime benefit-sharing beneficiaries are intended to be the indigenous peoples and local communities who conserve and safeguard global biodiversity, yet who often are the most socioeconomically deprived among us. As such, this Article also situates the DSI benefit-sharing controversy within the larger societal moments focused on justice for the vulnerable and climate change mitigation.

Keywords: CBD, biodiversity, digital sequence information, synthetic biology, patent, indigenous peoples, justice

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Bagley, Margo A., "Just" Sharing: The Virtues of Digital Sequence Information Benefit-Sharing for the Common Good (December 14, 2021). Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 63, No. 3, 2022, Emory Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3985083

Margo A. Bagley (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

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