Legal Geographies of Intellectual Property, ‘Traditional’ Knowledge and Biodiversity: Experiencing Conventions, Laws, Customary Law, and Karma in Thailand

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Abstract

This article explores the existence of customary laws relating to ‘traditional’ knowledge of plants in Thailand through micro-ethnographic case studies. This is juxtaposed against global and national frameworks of intellectual property laws that have a privatising effect on knowledge under the rubric of discovery or ‘invention’, as well as liability rights approaches of compensation and benefit-sharing for research access. By understanding scale and legal jurisdiction as socially and politically constructed phenomena, we explore how laws at different scales and in different jurisdictions may override each other, discriminate against foreign laws and practices, and ignore customary laws. In doing so, the paper presents complex legal geographies of plants and associated knowledge, which suggest that the customary laws and norms of Indigenous groups and traditional healers are often ignored by ‘outsiders’. The paper notes that the possibility of ‘injury’ to traditional healers remains considerable without appropriate consent and given the discriminations surrounding knowledge made by patent laws. However, the ethnographies also point to the possibility of local remedies to these injuries through ritual processes, and we note resistant co-constitutions of law and scale through the Nagoya Protocol.

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