The WIPO Treaty on Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge - May 2024

On May 24, 2024, WIPO member states adopted a groundbreaking new treaty addressing intellectual property (IP) rights concerning genetic resources (GR) and associated traditional knowledge (TK). This historic treaty, the first of its kind, marks the culmination of over two decades of negotiations and sets a new precedent for the protection and fair use of these critical resources.

What is the WIPO Treaty About?

The WIPO Treaty on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, and Associated Traditional Knowledge aims to establish a framework for disclosing the use of GR and associated TK in patent applications. This treaty is designed to enhance transparency and ensure that the contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities are acknowledged and protected. By requiring patent applicants to disclose the origins of GR and TK, the treaty seeks to prevent biopiracy and promote equitable benefit-sharing.

What are Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge?

Genetic Resources (GR): These are genetic materials of actual or potential value, contained in medicinal plants, crops, and animal breeds. While GR themselves cannot be patented, inventions developed using them can be protected.

Associated Traditional Knowledge (TK): This includes knowledge, know-how, skills, and practices developed and sustained by Indigenous Peoples and local communities over generations. This knowledge often informs scientific research and contributes to developing protected inventions.

What Does the Treaty Do?

The treaty introduces several key provisions:

Disclosure Requirement: Patent applicants must disclose the country of origin or source of the GR and the Indigenous Peoples or local community that provided the associated TK when their inventions are based on these resources.

Sanctions and Remedies: The treaty mandates that contracting parties establish effective sanctions for non-disclosure. However, patents cannot be invalidated solely based on the failure to disclose, unless fraudulent intent is proven.

Information Systems: It encourages the creation of databases and information systems to facilitate the search and examination of patents involving GR and TK.

Why Do We Need a System of Mandatory Disclosure of GRs and Associated TK?

The need for a mandatory disclosure system arises from historical concerns about biopiracy—the misappropriation of GR and TK from Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Biopiracy often involves developing and patenting commercial products like medicines without adequate compensation or permission from the original holders of TK and GR. Examples include patents on the wound-healing properties of turmeric, neem tree extracts, the African “Hoodia” cactus, and the Amazonian “ayahuasca” vine.

A mandatory disclosure system ensures transparency, promotes equitable benefit-sharing, and protects the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. It aligns with the principles of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which emphasizes sovereign rights over GR and requires prior informed consent and benefit-sharing.


The WIPO Treaty on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, and Associated Traditional Knowledge represents a significant step forward in international IP law. It acknowledges the contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, promotes transparency and seeks to prevent biopiracy. By requiring the disclosure of GR and TK in patent applications, the treaty ensures that the benefits of innovation are shared equitably, fostering a more inclusive and ethical IP system.

As this treaty comes into effect, it will pave the way for a new era of respect and recognition for the invaluable knowledge and resources held by communities around the world.