Intellectual Property Rights


“Sacred” refers to “any expression of traditional knowledge that symbolizes or pertains to religious and spiritual beliefs, practices or customs.  It is used as the opposite of profane or secular, the extreme forms of which are commercially exploited forms of traditional knowledge.”

Sacred traditional knowledge refers to the traditional knowledge which includes religious and spiritual elements, such as totems, special ceremonies, sacred objects, sacred knowledge, prayers, chants, and performances and also sacred symbols, and also refers to sacred traditional knowledge associated with sacred species of plants, animals, microorganisms, minerals, and refers to sacred sites.  Whether traditional knowledge is sacred or not depends on whether it has sacred significance to the relevant community.  Much sacred traditional knowledge is by definition not commercialized, but some sacred objects and sites are being commercialized by religious, faith-based and spiritual communities themselves, or by outsiders to these, and for different purposes.

The WIPO Report on Fact-Finding Missions on Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge mentions that several subject areas, such as traditional ways of problem-solving and medicinal knowledge, are interrelated in a spiritual way.  The spiritual aspects of healing which precede the actual administration of some traditional medicines are considered very important, for instance, in every country in West Africa although it is recognized that they cannot come under scientific scrutiny.  In certain traditional knowledge systems, non-material beliefs and cultural codes are supposed to explain or guide the consequences of material transactions. In Peru, some “knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation in a sacred, unwritten ‘book’.” The core of sacred and secret traditional is considered in indigenous and local communities in different ways, and is stored, transmitted and recorded in diverse ways.

From an intellectual property perspective, and the work of the IGC in particular, the following observations may be made:

  • A delegation has inquired whether sacred traditional knowledge would be taken into account when discussing intellectual property protection. In this regard, another delegation raised the question in three aspects:  what was “traditional”, what was “knowledge”, and what should be protected?  For example, there were views that spirituality or religions should be included in traditional knowledge, on the other hand, there were views that traditional knowledge should be restricted to technical knowledge;

generally, sacred traditional knowledge is non-disclosed or is disclosed in particular contexts and conditions to members of indigenous and local communities, though some may be disclosed to external members of indigenous and local communities in special conditions.  As indicated above and in “Protection of Traditional Knowledge:  Draft Gap Analysis:  Revision” Rev.), non-disclosed traditional knowledge might be protected by international intellectual property law as undisclosed information in general.  However, special considerations might apply to knowledge that has a spiritual and cultural value, but not commercial value, to the community.