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What is Traditional Knowledge?
“Traditional knowledge (TK)”, “Indigenous Knowledge (IK)”, “Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK)” and “Local Knowledge” [1] are all terms employed to mean knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional life-styles; the wisdom developed over many generations of holistic traditional scientific utilization of the lands, natural resources, and environment. It is generally passed down - by word of mouth - from generation to generation and is - for the most part - undocumented. Traditional knowledge is valid and necessary, and awaits its currently relevant wider application for human benefit [2]

Native people define TK as follows: [3]

  • It is practical common sense based on teachings and experiences passed on from generation to generation
  • It is knowing the country; it covers knowledge of the environment such as snow, ice, weather, resources, and the relationships between things
  • It is holistic. It cannot be compartmentalized and cannot be separated from the people who hold it. It is rooted in the spiritual health, culture and language of the people. It is a way of life
  • Traditional knowledge is an authority system. It sets out the rules governing the use of resources - respect, an obligation to share. It is dynamic, cumulative and stable. It is truth
  • Traditional knowledge is a way of life - wisdom is using traditional knowledge in good ways. It is using the heart and the head together. It comes from the spirit in order to survive
  • It gives credibility to the people
Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Property [4]
The role of intellectual property (IP) systems in relation to TK, and how to preserve, protect and equitably make use of TK, has received increasing attention in a range of international policy discussions. These address matters as diverse as food and agriculture, the environment, notably the conservation of biological diversity, health, including traditional medicines, human rights and Indigenous issues and aspects of trade and economic development

While the policy issues concerning TK are broad and diverse, the IP issues break down into two key themes:

  • Defensive Protection of TK, or measures which ensure that IP rights over TK are not given to parties other than the customary TK holders. These measures have included the amendment of WIPO-administered patent systems (the International Patent Classification system and the Patent Cooperation Treaty Minimum Documentation). Some countries and communities are also developing TK databases that may be used as evidence of prior art to defeat a claim to a patent on such TK
  • Positive Protection of TK, or the creation of positive rights in TK that empower TK holders to protect and promote their TK. In some countries, sui generis legislation has been developed specifically to address the positive protection of TK. Providers and users may also enter into contractual agreements and/or use existing IP systems of protection
Impact of the Internet on Traditional Knowledge
Some voices echo that maintaining TK in databases can help reduce or eliminate piracy. They see the need to publish TK on the Internet as additional means to preserve them, and at the same time make them visual to the whole world to discover. Exposure on the Internet will help reduce piracy since people become aware of what is classified as a TK and what are not [5]


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_knowledge
  2. http://www.niscair.res.in/sciencecommunication/ResearchJournals/rejour/ijtk/ijtk0.asp
  3. http://www.nativescience.org/html/traditional_knowledge.html
  4. http://www.wipo.int/tk/en/tk/
  5. http://www.idrc.ca/panasia/ev-10152-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

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