Ecuador’s strategy for tackling biopiracy

A new report published by the Ecuador government identifies countries that have biopirated Ecuador’s genetic resources. A majority of the identified countries are developed countries. United States, Australia, Germany, Netherlands and South Korea were identified as the top five countries that have applied for the highest number of patents by illegally using genetic resources derived from Ecuador.

Considered one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Ecuador has an array of species that are endemic to the region. It is home to 8% of all known amphibian species in the world and 16% of all known bird species. Biodiversity is a core asset of the country which is why conservation and sustainability of biological resources are culturally important. Ecuadorian laws require foreign countries to seek state authorization in order to access genetic resources. This is in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol. Although, Ecuador is only a party to the CBD, while a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol

The term “biopirate” refers to foreign countries that have allowed the patenting of products derived from Ecuador’s genetic resources without meeting the access requirements. Ecuador has been subject to multiple cases of biopiracy which is ultimately what led to the development of the report. According to the Ecuadorian Institute of Intellectual Property, the country has taken action to prevent biopiracy by filing applications to invalidate the patents identified in the report. The institute will also monitor patents being applied worldwide to take further action.

The report provides a valuable tool for developing nations like Ecuador to fight biopiracy. By taking a proactive role to invalidate patents, Ecuador demonstrates the ability to correct inequalities resulting from inventions developed using endemic resources.

At the next international meeting involving the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade Organization, Ecuador will present the country’s position on establishing a procedure to govern “misappropriation” of endemic resources. Through this process, it aims to prevent patenting of genetic resources without state authorization.

These approaches set a bold example for tackling biopiracy, although as biologist Luis Coloma, director of the Jambatu Amphibian Research Centre points out, “fighting biopiracy depends not only on Ecuador, but also on the will and legislation of other countries.” International standards such as the Nagoya Protocol and the Convention on Biological Diversity provide a useful common legal framework to protect biodiversity and mandate fair and equitable benefit sharing. However, tackling biopiracy not only requires nations to become a party to these agreements but also to further implement them at a domestic level through legislative or policy measures.

Additional References:

  1. Orbe, Tania. “Ecuador names and shames biopirates” (5 July 2016), Sci Dev Net, online: <http://www.scidev.net/global/biodiversity/news/ecuador-names-biopirates.html>.

    Photo credit: Darwin’s cotton by Wildlife Travel // licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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