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Why Intellectual Property Rights in Traditional Knowledge Cannot Contribute to Sustainable Development

Dennis S. Karjala, Arizona State University

Abstract

This paper makes a simple point: If sustainability (however defined) is the goal, intellectual property rights in traditional knowledge do not move us toward the achievement of that goal. The reason is that the only social policy justification for recognizing intellectual property rights at all is that they supposedly serve as an incentive to create socially desirable works of authorship and inventions. They are not and should serve as a reward for past achievements. In other words, outside of their usual incentive function of promoting new technology, intellectual property rights in traditional knowledge have no role to play in the sustainability analysis. This is not to say that traditional knowledge is irrelevant to sustainability; indeed, there is good reason to believe that much can be learned from study and implementation of traditional practices in a wide range of fields. Nor is it to say that intellectual property rights in general play no role in advancing the goal of sustainability. The incentives supplied by intellectual property rights to authors and inventors may help induce new technologies and methods for preserving what is left of the natural state of the planet and its ecosystems. The point is only that intellectual property rights in traditional knowledge can do no good (in promoting sustainability) and may do much harm, by tying up knowledge in exclusive rights that inhibit its application to sustainability (or anything else) without any compensating social gains.

Suggested Citation

Dennis S. Karjala. 2010. "Why Intellectual Property Rights in Traditional Knowledge Cannot Contribute to Sustainable Development" ExpressO
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/dennis_karjala/5

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