NARF presents at World Intellectual Property Organization


On June 25, 2018, NARF Staff Attorney Sue Noe presented at the 36th session of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). Ms. Noe served on the opening Indigenous Panel, along with co-panelist Mr. Aleksey Tsykarev, Member and Former Chairperson-Rapporteur of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and her presentation dealt with specific examples and issues related to practical measures, such as databases and contracts, for the protection of indigenous peoples’ genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

Specifically, Noe described some of the recent experiences of the Penobscot Nation and the Karuk Tribe, both of whom are actively working to protect their tribes’ traditional knowledge, cultural heritage, and intellectual property rights.

The Penobscot Nation was one of the earliest US tribes working on intellectual property issues. It has established a governing body—the Penobscot Tribal Rights and Resources Protection Board that reviews, approves, and provides oversight for all research concerning the Tribe’s cultural heritage conducted by non-tribal members. Most recently, in May 2018, the Penobscot Nation and the University of Maine signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding regarding the University’s research processes and Penobscot Nation intellectual property rights and rights of consultation related to Penobscot Nation cultural heritage in the University’s collections and publications.

Like the Penobscot Nation, the Karuk Tribe has also worked for decades on intellectual property and cultural heritage preservation efforts, collaborating with academic institutions to create a multi-faceted intellectual property toolkit that protects the Tribe’s resources and provides a framework for acceptable ways of sharing information. The Karuk Tribe has developed guiding principles that govern collaborations and research related to the Tribe. They include free, prior, and informed consent, confidentiality, self-determination, and other principles recognizing that the Tribe retains prior proprietary rights over its traditional knowledge and cultural and natural resources and that the Tribe is the primary legal and cultural custodian in any projects or activities that produce intellectual property products.

As part of Noe’s presentation, Lisa Hillman, Pikyav Field Institute Project Manager (Karuk Tribe) spoke to the issues that the Tribe encounters in its efforts to ensure intellectual property protections for the Tribe’s cultural heritage:


Ms. Noe emphasized that while practical measures can be useful tools for tribes in seeking to protect their traditional knowledge and intellectual property rights, legal norms providing positive protections for indigenous peoples’ intellectual property rights—like the legal instruments under negotiation by the WIPO IGC—are imperative.

Read more about NARF’s ongoing work on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians at the World Intellectual Property Organization.