Blame it on Rio: Biodiscovery, Native Title, and Traditional Knowledge

Southern Cross University Law Review, Vol. 7, pp. 1-49, December 2003

49 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2004

See all articles by Matthew Rimmer

Matthew Rimmer

Queensland University of Technology (QUT)


This article examines the legal responses to protect traditional knowledge of biodiversity in the wake of the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity. It considers the relative merits of the inter-locking regimes of contract law, environmental law, intellectual property law, and native title law. Part 1 considers the natural drug discovery industry in Australia. In particular, it looks at the operations of Amrad, Astra Zeneca R & D, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. This section examines the key features of the draft regulations proposed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) - model contracts, informed consent, benefit-sharing, and ministerial discretion. The use of Indigenous Land Use Agreements in the context of access to genetic resources is also explored. Part 2 considers the role played by native title law in dealing with tangible and intangible property interests. The High Court decision in Western Australia v Ward considers the relationship between native title rights and cultural knowledge. The Federal Court case of Neowarra v Western Australia provides an intriguing gloss on this High Court decision. Part 3 looks at whether traditional knowledge of biodiversity can be protected under intellectual property law. It focuses upon reforms such as Senator Aden Ridgeway's proposed amendments to the Plant Breeder's Rights Act 1994 (Cth), and the push to make disclosure of origin a requirement of patent law.

Keywords: Bioprospecting, access to genetic resources, biopiracy, patent law, plant breeders' rights, native title, traditional knowledge, Indigenous intellectual property

Suggested Citation

Rimmer, Matthew, Blame it on Rio: Biodiscovery, Native Title, and Traditional Knowledge. Southern Cross University Law Review, Vol. 7, pp. 1-49, December 2003, Available at SSRN:

Matthew Rimmer (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, Queensland QLD 4000

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