WIPO – Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge

Indigenous and local communities justly cherish traditional knowledge (TK) as a part of their very cultural identities. Maintaining the distinct knowledge systems that give rise to TK can be vital for their future well-being and sustainable development and for their intellectual and cultural vitality. For many communities, TK forms part of an holistic world-view, and is inseparable from their very ways of life and their cultural values, spiritual beliefs and customary legal systems. This means that it is vital to sustain not merely the knowledge but the social and physical environment of which it forms an integral part.

TK also has a strong practical component, since it is often developed in part as an intellectual response to the necessities of life: this means that it can be of direct and indirect benefit to society more broadly. There are many examples of important technologies being derived directly from TK. But when others seek to benefit from TK, especially for industrial or commercial advantage, this can lead to concerns that the knowledge has been misappropriated and that the role and contribution of TK holders has not been recognized and respected.