|Ethno-pharmacological Knowledge of Taiwan and its Protection
|Warren H. J. Kuo, Jau-Hwa Chen, Hsin-Fu Yen, Antonio I. C. Hong
|ethnopharmacology, indigenous people, intellectual property right, Taiwan, traditional knowledge.
|Indigenous ethnopharmacological knowledge has been used to ease or cure
pain and diseases of indigenous peoples for a long time and is also a valuable
source for the development of modern drugs. For this reason, many
pharmaceutical companies are engaged in bioprospecting. However, cost of
bioprospecting is fairly expensive. Traditional knowledge may be used to increase
probability of sieving out useful pharmaceutical materials from numerous
Indigenous peoples of Taiwan have created rich ethnobotanical knowledge.
During the past one hundred years, ethnobotanists have recorded more than 400
medicinal plant species that were used to curing about 50 diseases, covering
dermatology, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, dental pain, gastroenterology,
infectious diseases, respiratory disorders, orthopedics, neurology, obstetrics/
gynecology and others.
Protection of traditional knowledge (TK) is divided into two dimensions:
safeguard of knowledge rights and of system that maintaining and innovating
knowledge. The protection of TK rights contains intellectual property right
regime, such as patent and trade secret, and non-intellectual property right
regime, including contract and customary laws. Regarding the protection of intellectual property right regime, discussion should be made focusing on “public
domain” and “private domain” into which traditional ethnopharmacological
knowledge is divided.
Protecting TK of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan confronts several
problems. As to the safeguard of knowledge rights, the most serious defect of the
protection of non-intellectual property right regime is that legal institutions of
prior informed consent and benefit sharing have not yet been established.
Regarding passive protection, the problem is that Taiwan is neither a member of
WIPO nor a signatory country of CBD, UPOV and Bern Convention, hence there
is no guarantee that databases and register established in Taiwan would be
adopted by patent offices around the world and accepted as examining references
to prevent biopiracy. Regarding positive protection, the most significant problem
is that it is too difficult to identify right holders. The major reason is that
traditional territories are now too indistinct to identify who should share the
benefits from the knowledge. As to trade secret, private property system and
market economy are now widespread within indigenous tribes, adopting trade
secret regime to protect traditional knowledge arises critical problems. As to the
protection of the system that maintaining and innovating knowledge, the most
vital problem is that traditional customs are vanishing rapidly and autonomy of
tribes becomes more and more powerless so that it is not easy to restore the
original living style that ensure intimate human–environmental relationship,
which is essential for the creation of traditional knowledge.