What does biopiracy mean

Biopiracy: Stolen Common Property

Unlike other innovations, biopatents are based on identifying and exploiting favorable properties of a biological material. If, for example, it is a medicinal plant whose health benefits an indigenous community has known for generations, no patent should actually be issued for it. Nevertheless, it happens that corporations acquire traditional knowledge by patenting gene sequences, for example, which can then only be used and exploited by the patent owner. Critics refer to this incorporation of traditional and thus public knowledge as biopiracy.

Human rights activists fear that such patents will become rampant and, in particular, will impoverish smallholders further through the monopoly of the seed market, because the free use of the traditional and inexpensive variety has become a criminal offense. In addition, rural communities in poor countries are dependent on being able to adapt their crops and animals to their local needs through breeding. In order for them to be able to pursue breeding at all, the genetic material required for this must not be private property. Small-scale farmers in particular are dependent on the ability to freely modify plants and animals.

Is More Justice Possible?

In order to achieve more justice, the Biodiversity Convention demands that the income from the sale of medicines based on indigenous medicinal plants, for example, be distributed more appropriately. So far, communities whose intellectual (but not patented) property served as the basis for a new drug, for example, have only marginally participated in the billions in profits of biotechnology companies.

The undesirable development was also recognized as a problem by the patent offices and there are attempts to push back biopiracy. In February 2009, India granted the European Patent Office access to its Digital Library of Traditional Knowledge. The data collected on 30 million pages - some centuries-old texts on, for example, traditional healing methods - can be compared by the officials of the European Patent Office when examining organic patent applications. Before there was this possibility of advance control, the Indian government had to proceed in complex individual proceedings against already granted patents, which were based on traditional knowledge from India. This does not mean that the use of old knowledge is automatically excluded for companies - the patent can also refer to the manufacturing process or the way in which the active ingredient is extracted from, for example, the medicinal plant. As early as 2008, China gave the European Patent Office access to its 32,000-entry digital archive for traditional medicine.