Ecuadorian IP Institute registers traditional knowledge of indigenous community

By Shawn Sullivan

Ecuador takes steps to protect the vast traditional knowledge of the Tsáchila people, with further plans to register the cultural expressions, dances, clothing styles and crafts of its indigenous communities.

During a recent conference at its offices in Guayaquil, the Ecuadorian Intellectual Property Institute (IEPI) presented its 2013 annual report – IEPI, 2013 Informe de Rendición de Cuentas. As noted in an article published in the newspaper El Comercio, IEPI has been involved in a pilot project to register items of traditional knowledge of the Tsáchila tribe, an indigenous community that inhabits the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas.

According to the annual report, IEPI entered 460 registrations of genetic resources associated with Tsáchila traditional knowledge. IEPI plans soon to commence registration of traditional clothing styles, cultural expressions, dances, and crafts. This year, the institute will expand its efforts to register elements of traditional knowledge to include the patrimony of the Cofán and Awa indigenous communities.

A biologically megadiverse country, Ecuador has taken steps to safeguard its genetic diversity and indigenous knowledge against erosion and piracy, as provided in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing. Ecuador ratified the CBD in 1993, but so far has only signed but not yet ratified the Nagoya Protocol.

However, its internal laws reflect a strong preference for protecting the traditions, customs, and ancestral knowledge of its indigenous communities. For example, Article 57(12) of the Ecuadorian Constitution guarantees to such communities the rights:

“…to maintain, protect, and develop collective knowledge; their scientific information, technologies, and ancestral knowledge; genetic resources that contain biological and agricultural biodiversity, including the right to recover, promote, and protect their sacred and ritual places, as well as plants, animals, minerals, and ecosystems within their territories; and the knowledge of the resources and properties of animals and plants.”

In addition, Article 9 of Ecuador’s Organic Law for Food Sovereignty prohibits “all forms of misappropriation of collective knowledge and ancestral know-how”.

In pursuit of the national policy of conserving and protecting traditional knowledge, the Ecuadorian government has launched a number of initiatives such as Project VICAT, a program of the national Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation (SENESCYT), whose objective is to create a scientific database that can quantify the loss of ancestral knowledge.

For its part, in addition to working with indigenous communities to catalog their traditional knowledge, IEPI has prepared a draft law for the protection of traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, and genetic resources.

About the author

Shawn Sullivan
Shawn is general counsel to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), ILSI Research Foundation, ILSI North America, and the ILSI Health and Environmental Sciences Institute. Based in Washington, D.C., he also runs a limited private practice in areas that include nonprofit law, negotiations, contract law, international business, technology transactions, and corporate law. Shawn may be contacted at sullivan[at]sullivanlaw.net.