After nearly a quarter of a century, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has approved the passage of a new IP treaty: the WIPO Treaty on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge.

Originally initiated in 1999 by Colombia, negotiations for this Treaty began in 2001 and culminated in the final stage negotiations from May 13-24 of this year. Once entered into force with fifteen contracting parties, the Treaty will “establish in international law a new disclosure requirement for patent applicants whose inventions are based on genetic resources and/or associated traditional knowledge,” per today’s WIPO Press Release.

WIPO Director General Daren Tang celebrated the adoption of the first new WIPO Treaty in over a decade, noting WIPO’s commitment to incentivizing innovation while acknowledging the needs of all Member States and their communities.

The new Treaty requires patent applicants whose claimed inventions are based on genetic resources to disclose the country of origin or source of said genetic resources. What are genetic resources? The Treaty itself defines them as “genetic material of actual or potential value,” which include those genetic materials contained in medicinal plants, agricultural crops or animal breeds, for example. A footnote to the Treaty further clarifies that “genetic resources” is intended to align with the understanding of the term in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity – not intended to include human genetic resources. While genetic material itself is ineligible for patent protection, inventions claiming a use for such genetic material may be eligible.

Similarly, patent applications based on traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources must disclose the Indigenous Peoples or local communities who provided the traditional knowledge, seeking to protect the interests of such communities whose generational knowledge, use, and conservation of genetic resources may be incorporated into scientific literature and contribute to the development of patented inventions.

Patent owners should be particularly mindful of these new requirements when applying for, registering, and protecting their international patents. As we move forward, staying informed about such developments will be essential for maintaining robust and ethical intellectual property practices.