Sui Generis Protection of Traditional Knowledge

  • Post category:Blog
  • Reading time:11 mins read

Written By: Dhimaan Dutta

What is Sui Generis?

Sui generis is a Latin phrase that means “of a different type.” It refers to something that is unique to itself, such as a species or a class. Sui generis is a legal term that refers to a distinct legal categorization.

What is Traditional Knowledge?

Traditional knowledge is information, know-how, skills, and practices that are produced, maintained and passed down through generations within a community, typically as part of the group’s cultural or spiritual identity.

  • In a broad sense, TK encompasses both the body of knowledge and traditional cultural manifestations, including recognisable signs and symbols connected with TK.
  • In its broadest meaning, TK refers to knowledge in general, particularly knowledge derived through conventional intellectual effort, and encompasses know-how, practises, skills, and inventions.
  • Agricultural, scientific, technological, ecological, and medical knowledge, as well as biodiversity-related information, are all examples of traditional knowledge.

Traditional and Intellectual property

Patent, trademark, and geographical indication protection may be available for TK-based innovations, or they may be protected as a trade secret or private information. Traditional knowledge, on the other hand, which has ancient origins and is frequently passed down orally, is not protected by traditional intellectual property (IP) regimes.

  1. Defensive Protection: Defensive protection is a collection of methods designed to prevent other parties from obtaining illegal or baseless IP rights to TK. WIPO-managed patent systems will be amended as part of these steps. Some nations and communities are also creating TK databases that may be used as proof of previous art to disprove a patent claim for TK. WIPO has created a toolbox to help traditional knowledge bearers in recording their knowledge.
  2. Positive Protection: Two features of IP rights-based positive TK protection are being investigated:
  3. Keeping unlawful usage of TK at bay
  4. active exploitation of TK by the original community.

The WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore is currently negotiating a worldwide legal instrument. Sui generis law has been created in certain nations to address the positive preservation of traditional knowledge.

Sui Generis Law

The phrase sui generis is typically used by courts to refer to a one-of-a-kind case, legal idea, or theory. For example, a court may declare that a case’s interpretation or a certain legal idea is sui generis. That is to say, the facts of the case or the legal principles are unique and cannot be categorized with others. A court may rule that a case is sui generis, meaning that its unique logic should not be applied to the stare decisis rules. Sui generis refers to a situation that is so unusual that its underlying logic cannot be applied widely.

The Indian Perspective

A vast number of indigenous people live in India. India has the world’s biggest population of tribal people, with about 84.4 million. Every tribe has its own culture, tradition, language, and way of life. The information that these groups and other local communities hold is diverse and vital to India’s cultural history. India has attempted to preserve this “knowledge” by incorporating it in patent, copyright, trademark, geographical indication, and other IPR regulations. Traditional knowledge, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to fulfil its goals due to its dynamic and comprehensive nature.

There was a period when there was almost no way to convert and safeguard an individual’s or a community’s knowledge. With the passage of time, intellectual property evolved as a mechanism to safeguard an individual’s creativity and invention. India now has a well-established intellectual property (IP) framework. It safeguards an individual’s creative expression in the form of art, work, innovation, or design. However, India only understood the economic value of traditional knowledge and the necessity to preserve it late in 1997, when the United States claimed a patent on turmeric and basmati rice.

Following that, India took significant attempts to safeguard “traditional knowledge” by adopting two major laws. These Acts provide excellent protection for farmers and medicinal plants. TKDL was also created. The passage of the Act may allow more private investment in certain crops, seed supply networks, agricultural expansion, and farmers’ access to technologies at a lower cost. Indigenous peoples and local communities, on the other hand, have distinct demands and expectations in terms of IP, owing to their complexity in terms of social, historical, political, and cultural elements, as well as their vulnerabilities. TK protection crosses all IP categories and frequently involves other legal concerns, as well as ethical and cultural sensitivity that extends beyond IP.

The Way Forward For Sui Genris Legislation And Its Applicability In Indian Society

In its examination of aspects of sui generis law on traditional knowledge, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) noted that a difference should be established between information that may be marketed and other sacred knowledge that is outside the purview of the legislation. Only by dividing diverse aspects of traditional knowledge such as spiritual, historic, economic, medical, and traditional secrets can we make this proposal work. Indigenous groups have proposed that commercialized knowledge be owned and controlled by those who have inherited it.

This can be accomplished by forming administrative organizations overseen by community representatives. Another essential factor to consider is reaching out to communities and educating them about their rights. India needs a task force to reach out to all communities in order to accomplish this. Where TKDL may function autonomously as a one-of-a-kind entity. However, certain tribes, such as the Selena’s in Andaman, refuse to allow outsiders inside their territory. Campaigns such as the Gene Campaign should be promoted in order to better understand the needs of communities and to educate people about their rights.

Some societies have passed along important information and customs from one generation to the next. The community, as well as others, may place a great value on these ancient activities and artworks, as well as medicinal expertise. Intellectual property law, on the other hand, does not often protect information about plant therapeutic applications, collective works reproductions, traditional cultural activities, or spiritual rituals. This is due to the fact that most of this knowledge isn’t brand new and can’t be traced back to a single person.


Sui generis refers to something that is one-of-a-kind or belongs to a distinct class. A unique doctrine, unique factual foundations of a case, unique logic or interpretation of a legal idea, unique legal remedy, or something that does not fit into an existing class or notion are all examples of the phrase. We must first refine each and every category of TK in order to construct an Act on sui generis. Second, we must distinguish between those TK that are holistic in character, as India is a country with a diverse culture. Third, we must determine whether Indians are willing to compromise with their long-standing culture and history.

The incorporation of sui generis components into IPR for the protection of traditional knowledge is seen as a pressing requirement. In order to ensure efficient recognition and protection of rights, such a system would function as a bridge between indigenous communities and citizens, as well as the international legal system. It can provide flexibility in establishing frameworks that deal with biological resource knowledge and the distribution of benefits generated from resource use. The amount of literacy, time, and money necessary to register TK. This procedure is extremely unlikely to be followed by these indigenous peoples, leaving the door open for a third party to gain rights to their resources and related knowledge. As a result, the registration, pricing, and litigation procedures for TK should be streamlined to make the IPR system more accessible to communities.

A Proposal

Early on, the necessity for a unique type of IPR was realized. Any improvements that aren’t made in this area might open the door to biopiracy and theft, particularly of plant and genetic resources. It is also possible to argue that the lack of a sui generis system implies that many communities will be deprived of their traditional knowledge and heritage. This has the effect of causing India to lose a significant amount of income that might otherwise be used to promote its growth. It is sometimes thought that accurate documenting of traditional knowledge might aid in the detection of bio-piracy. At the very least, this data-based data will be harmonized in structure and content.

This has the effect of causing India to lose a significant amount of income that might otherwise be used to promote its growth. It is sometimes thought that accurate documenting of traditional knowledge might aid in the detection of bio-piracy. We may also presume that if material knowledge is documented, it can be made available to patent examiners, allowing previous art in the case of innovations based on such materials to be quickly found. Access to existing databases, such as the TKDL, may make it easier to build a gateway for traditional knowledge in the field of medicine, which would electronically link this database to another TK database.

The data should be accessible over the Internet. Given the extent to which conventional knowledge has already been documented in the database, it’s critical that patent examiners get acquainted with these resources. It will also include additional aspects that will reconcile the legislation with the state’s socio-political and economic-environmental preferences, as well as its obligations related to the legislative issue, without jeopardizing their culture and tradition.

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