Indigenous Knowledge & Intellectual Property by C Ncube and E du Plessis- Reviewed by FWB’s Louis Rood


The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has

brought to the fore the rights of indigenous peoples to the protection of their

knowledge and culture. Established legal intellectual property systems, which

view knowledge in terms of private individually-owned property rights that may

be commodified in a market economy, are however inadequate to protect

indigenous knowledge. It is easier to identify a specific inventor or author, and

to patent a single, bright idea than to do so for unique knowledge developed

over time by many people in an ever evolving community culture.

 

Indigenous knowledge is usually committed to the memories of people in a

particular geographic location and expressed in folklore, stories, songs, rituals,

dances, and other cultural ways, shared orally through traditional processes

within a specific community. This is transmitted from generation to generation

and is embedded in the history and culture of the community. It forms an

integral part of the social, economic, and technological identity of that

community, and its application and adaptation by cohesive traditional societies

ensures its long-term persistence, sanctity and progress within the natural,

social and economic environment of those societies.

Achille Mbembe, Research Professor in history and politics at the Wits Institute

for Social and Economic Research, has observed with regard to Africa: “…the

existence of deep histories and entrenched cultures of curiosity, invention and

innovation, long underestimated, neglected or misunderstood….In their

extraordinary liveliness and frugality, these cultures of retrieval, repair and

remaking of things are the repositories of tacit knowledge and skills that have

not been the object of proper documentation and even less so of archiving”.

(Mail & Guardian, 2017 January 6 to 12).

This collection of essays by distinguished authors and editors forms a valuable

and timely examination of the complex and daunting challenges of giving

substance to the rights inherent in and flowing from indigenous knowledge.

Various approaches to the protection of indigenous knowledge are assessed

as well as the tension between the desire to exploit traditional knowledge for

financial gain, and the desire to protect and preserve traditional knowledge.

These differing approaches are reflected in draft legislation that has been

formulated in South Africa, but this is a subject that is far from being resolved.

The contributions that this perceptive book offers, drawing as they do from

policy and legislative developments in various foreign jurisdictions facing

similar difficulties, provide significant insights and critical perspectives to what

lies at the heart of transformation and decolonisation.

Congratulations are due to the learnered editors Professors Caroline B Ncube

LLB, LLM, PhD and Elmien du Plessis BA, LLB, LLD, as well as the

contributing authors Professors Pamela Andanda LLB, LLM, PhD, and Sue

Farran BA, LLB, LLM, PhD, and Hojjat Khademi LLB, LLM, as well as

publishers Juta and Professor Hanri Mostert, series editor of Juta’s

Contemporary Legal and Applied Research Series. Recognition of the wider

importance and deep potential benefits of our rich and diverse indigenous

knowledge has been invigorated by this insightful and studious publication.

 

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