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The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) say benefits from scientific innovations derived from indigenous knowledge should be shared according to guidelines laid out in a report they launched earlier this month.

WIPO's deputy director-general Francis Gurry and UNEP executive director Klaus Töpfer launched the report at a meeting of WIPO's Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore held in Geneva on 1-5 November. The meeting was organised to discuss policies and principles for the protection of indigenous knowledge and folklore against misappropriation and misuse.

The study formed part of delegates' discussion about the role of intellectual property rights over benefits arising from the use of biological resources and indigenous knowledge. It says benefit-sharing systems should strike a balance between promoting scientific innovation through the use of biological resources, and protecting the rights of indigenous people who have cultivated and preserved those resources, or whose livelihood depends on them.

The study also stresses the importance of understanding intellectual property issues before genetic resources are used. It adds that benefits should be shared by mutual agreements forming partnerships between custodians of a resource and its users.

Claudio Torres Nachón, who works on indigenous environmental rights in Mexico, told SciDev.Net that a system to implement agreements over sharing of benefits would need a "review council that should examine every access agreement proposed, to assure that the terms are equitable and fair."

At the launch, Töpfer added that guidelines for sharing benefits would help protect biodiversity, by easing the tension between those who want to conserve it and the needs of the indigenous people (see Conserving biodiversity is a costly 'business')

Last month, WIPO agreed to consider a proposal from a group of developing countries to incorporate a 'development agenda' in the organisation's activities. The group was led by Argentina and Brazil and included Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Iran, Kenya and Venezuela.