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Keywords:

  • biopiracy;
  • intellectual property rights;
  • TRIPS;
  • CBD;
  • biodiversity;
  • bioprospecting

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the concept of biopiracy, which initially emerged to challenge various aspects of the regime for intellectual property rights (IPR) in living organisms, as well as related aspects pertaining to the ownership and apportioning of benefits from ‘genetic resources’ derived from the world’s biodiversity.

This paper proposes that we take the allegation of biopiracy seriously due to the impact it has as an intervention which indexes a number of different, yet interrelated, problematizations of biodiversity, biotechnology and IPR. Using the neem tree case as an example, it describes activists’ use of the term as one that involves a deliberate simplification of science and IPR. Additionally, it argues that in so doing, biopiracy is positioned as a touchstone that mobilizes actors and problems, and ultimately generates ‘solutions’ to the very challenges it creates.

The paper will also encourage a view of biopiracy claims that does not always treat them simply as claims of theft, or as a misallocation of benefits, but rather as claims that are designed to raise broader questions about the IPR system itself. It concludes by advocating that, in order to properly understand how to address biopiracy, we must be prepared to move beyond the current narrow readings to develop a more complete picture of the term’s influence in challenging how, and by whom, the decisions about what is natural and what is invented come to be made.