Genetic Resources

Genetic resources (GRs) refer to genetic material of actual or potential value. Genetic material is any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity.

Examples include material of plant, animal, or microbial origin, such as medicinal plants, agricultural crops and animal breeds.

Rice field in Madagascar (Photo: UN Photo/Lucien Rajaonina)

Genetic resources and intellectual property

GRs as encountered in nature are not creations of the human mind and thus they cannot be directly protected as intellectual property (IP). However, there are IP issues associated with GRs.

Inventions or plant varieties based on or developed using GRs (associated with traditional knowledge or not) may be patentable or protected by plant breeders’ rights.

In considering IP issues associated with GRs, WIPO’s work complements the frameworks for access and benefit-sharing provided by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Nagoya Protocol, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Issues under discussion at WIPO

Negotiations on an international legal instrument on IP issues related to GRs are taking place in the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.

Issues under discussion include:

Prevention of erroneously granted patents

It is generally considered that the granting of patents over inventions based on or developed using GRs (and associated traditional knowledge) which do not fulfill the existing requirements of novelty and inventiveness should be prevented.

To help patent examiners find relevant “prior art” and avoid the granting of erroneous patents, WIPO has improved its own search tools and patent classification systems, and it is proposed by some that databases and information systems related to GRs be created to address this issue.

Ensuring and tracking compliance with access and benefit-sharing frameworks

Disclosure requirements are one of the proposals to address this issue PDF, Table of genetic resources disclosure requirements.

Disclosure requirements mean patent (and perhaps also other forms of IP) applicants should disclose several categories of information concerning GRs, such as the source or origin of GRs and evidence of prior informed consent and benefit-sharing, when these GRs are used in developing the innovation claimed in a patent application.

The relationship between IP and GRs could be addressed by contract: see the Database of relevant contractual practices and Guide to Intellectual Property Issues in Access and Benefit-sharing Agreements, which offer users and providers of genetic resources an accessible overview of IP issues in access and benefit-sharing agreements.