Piracy, Biopiracy and Borrowing: Culture, Cultural Heritage and the Globalization of Intellectual Property


Discussions of both “piracy” and “biopiracy” often start from questionable assumptions about the nature of borrowing. In addition, legal treatment of local or traditional knowledge is often based on inadequate conceptions of the nature of culture and borrowing among cultures. Uses of local or traditional knowledge are embedded within an at times contentious discourse between North and South and have led to accusations of misappropriation, exploitation and “biopiracy.” This discourse reflects historical hierarchies of culture and power that continue to exert a strong influence on discourse, policy and the shape of legal doctrine. Many countries in the South lack the technological capacity to transform local knowledge existing within the South into knowledge that is protectable by current global intellectual property frameworks, which has significant cultural, economic and other implications for many Third World countries. In constructing frameworks for protecting local knowledge, bottom-up approaches that include the establishment of “local knowledge innovation zones,” modeled after the successful United States nineteenth century development strategy, may give local communities greater freedom to influence how local knowledge is used and contribute to the development of technological capacity in local communities.


Intellectual Property Law | Law and Society

Date of this Version

March 2006