Untangling Traditional Knowledge at the United Nations: Insights from the Frontlines

4 October 2018
Hosted by:

University of Ottawa’s Centre for Law, Technology and Society

uOttawa, Fauteux Hall, FTX 302

Ottawa, Canada

TIME: 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

In 2000, the General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, established the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). The IGC’s mandate was to undertake text-based negotiations for the effective protection of these subject matters. It was a response to the outrage by developing countries and Indigenous peoples over the failure of the global intellectual property system symbolized by the WTO-TRIPS Agreement to recognize the fused relationship of traditional knowledge (TK), genetic resources (GRs) and folklore (also known as traditional cultural expressions (TCEs)) as sites of innovation and creativity. That omission was an affront on the ability of people on the margins to participate and benefit equitably in the new global knowledge economy. Despite progress regarding TK in kindred regimes, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, why has the IGC yet to deliver on its mandate for nearly two decades? What are the underlying dynamics, sticking points and the tensions that continue to stall and shape deliberations at the expert body? Were expectations from the IGC realistic or misplaced? Were all parties committed to the same outcome from the outset? What are the possible ways forward for the IGC and its mandate? This talk provides personal insights based on the speaker’s experience as a participant in the IGC negotiations.


Prof. Chidi Oguamanam joined the Faculty of Law (Common Law Section) at the University of Ottawa in July 2011 and is affiliated with the Centre for Law, Technology and Society; the Centre for the Environment and Global Sustainability; and the Centre for Health Law Policy and Ethics.  He teaches Contract Law; Intellectual Property and Human Rights; Agricultural Knowledge Systems and the Law; and Biodiversity, Food Security and Suitability. Before his academic career, Oguamanam practised IP and corporate law. He then pursued graduate studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he obtained his LLM and PhD degrees in law.

Oguamanam began his academic career as a Fellow of the Canada Institutes of Health Research Program in Health Law and Ethics at Dalhousie University, and later joined the Dalhousie Law Faculty (now the Schulich School of Law) in Halifax. There, he served as the Director of the Law and Technology Institute. Oguamanam is a member of both the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and the Nigerian Bar Association, and is affiliated with the law firm Blackfriars LLP in Lagos.

Oguamanam’s diverse and multidisciplinary research interests include global knowledge governance, IP, and technology law – with an emphasis on biodiversity and biotechnology, including agricultural biotechnology. His research explores the intersections of traditional/indigenous knowledge and Western science in the context of the development discourse and knowledge governance. He has published on diverse topics including international IP lawmaking; globalisation; global governance; digitisation; biotechnology in the context of health and agriculture; food security; traditional medicine; global public health crises; health law and ethics; indigenous peoples; and indigenous knowledge. He is the Principal Investigator of The ABS Canada Project, one of Open AIR’s associated research initiatives.

Oguamanam provides consulting and support services to state and non-state actors, intergovernmental bodies (including United Nations affiliates), and indigenous and local communities (ILCs). In addition to several peer-reviewed articles, he is the author of International Law and Indigenous Knowledge: Intellectual Property, Plant Biodiversity, and Traditional Medicine (University of Toronto Press, 2006), and Intellectual Property in Global Governance: A Development Question (New York: Routledge, 2012) and was an editor of Innovation and Intellectual Property: Collaborative Dynamics in Africa (Cape Town: UCT Press, 2014).

Oguamanam was one of the founders of the Open AIR network in 2011, and serves as a Research Team Leader and a member of the Steering Committee.