Leading change

Protecting traditional knowledge and genetic resources

Prof Tana Pistorius is the incumbent of the South African Research Chair in Law, Society and Technology hosted by the College of Law, Unisa, funded by the DST and administered by the NRF. The chair’s research focus centres on law’s response to technological developments within our unique societal context.

Nkosinathi Mkhonza (Intellectual Property Policy and Legislation Consumer and Corporate Regulation Division, DTI), Velaphi Skosana (Senior Manager: Indigenous Cultural Expression & Knowledge, CIPC), Prof Tana Pistorius (South African Research Chair in Law, Society and Technology), Prof Frantzeska Papadopoulou (Stockholm University and Linnaeus University, Sweden), Nomagugu Hlongwane (Senior Lecturer: Mercantile Law), Adv. Patricia Molusi (CoD: Jurisprudence), Prof Mpfari Budeli-Nemakonde (CoD: Mercantile Law), and Prof Amos Saurombe (Research Manager, College of Law)

The chair offered its first lecture series on the protection of traditional knowledge and genetic resources on 20 January 2016. The lecture series was opened by Professor Amos Saurombe, Head of Graduate Studies and Innovation of the College of Law. Professor Frantzeska Papadopoulou of Stockholm University and Linnaeus University, Sweden, delivered a paper titled Global IP regulation and local concerns: From Rio to Nagoya and back.

Papadopoulou discussed the protection of traditional knowledge and genetic resources (TKGR). The starting point of the lecture was the international perspective, and the applicable international conventions that include provisions of direct or indirect relevance for the protection of TKGR. Furthermore, relevant international negotiations were discussed, and national legislative initiatives from different parts of the world were presented.

The focus of the second part of the lecture was on the current situation in the European Union (EU) and the new EU regulation on the protection of TKGR. The lecture concluded with questions related to the link between TKGR and intellectual property rights.

Pistorius offered short comments, noting that this topic is of immense importance to the protection of South Africa’s biodiversity. She noted that this was an apt topic for the first lecture series as it addresses the delicate balance between the legal framework to protect biodiversity, to stimulate innovation and to enhance benefit sharing. She noted that there is a need to align the state’s approach to the IP protection of traditional knowledge and the protection of indigenous knowledge.

A general discussion followed, focusing on the current situation obtaining in South Africa and the pending regulatory initiatives.

Unisa members of staff and students as well as private practitioners attended the lecture series. External stakeholders, including government officials representing the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Science and Technology, the National Intellectual Property Management Office, and representatives from the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, were also in attendance.

The chair established important linkages between postgraduate students, government officials and Papadopoulou. Papadopoulou and Pistorius established various future research cooperation projects.

Nomagugu Hlongwane, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mercantile Law, was responsible for all the arrangements and ensured a successful hosting of the seminar. Her efforts were noted and acknowledged.

*By Makabongwe Khanyile