IP protection sought for indigenous Sri Lanka medical practices

Sri Lanka is seeking WIPO intellectual property protection for its centuries-old folk medicine system, to help promote wellness and medical tourism development.

Sri Lanka’s indigenous medical practice is centuries old and co-exists with the country’s Ayurveda practice.

For the last five years, the government has been working towards the goal of protection with Geneva based World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

The difficulty is whether or not folk tradition similar to what other countries offer, can be given genuine protection that international courts will agree with.

WIPO is a global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation. It is a self-funding agency of the United Nations.

In recent years, indigenous peoples, local communities, and governments, mainly in developing countries, have sought protection for traditional knowledge systems.

Even WIPO admits that until global law changes, the existing international intellectual property system does not fully protect traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. Many communities and governments have subsequently called for an international legal instrument. An international legal instrument would define what is meant by traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, who the rights holders would be, how competing claims by communities would be resolved, and what rights and exceptions ought to apply.

Working out the details is complex and there are divergent views on the best ways forward, including whether intellectual property-type rights are appropriate for protecting traditional forms of innovation and creativity.

Sri Lanka is trying to amend the Intellectual Property Act on Geographic Indicators (GI), but this would have no global legal impact.