Author(s): Timmermans K
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Abstract Traditional medicines play an important role in the provision of health care in many developing countries. Their use is also significant in developed countries, increasing their commercial value. Several 'high-profile' cases of patenting of traditional medicines, without consent from or compensation to their holders, have further focussed attention on their importance. Traditional medicine usually involves biological resources and the knowledge of local and indigenous peoples and/or healers regarding their medicinal use; thus, it is interlinked with biodiversity conservation and indigenous peoples' rights over their knowledge and resources. At this multi-faceted interface, complex ethical questions arise. This article provides an overview and discussion of key issues, dilemmas and challenges. It points to possible modifications and at ways to devise new forms of intellectual property ownership that may better suit the needs of those who seek to protect traditional medicine. Yet it also questions whether such protection, which may restrict access, is the preferred option. While intellectual property protection for traditional medicines has multiple and diverse objectives, the priorities are often not clear and the strategies which could be deployed may interfere with each other, as well as with the prioritization of objectives. This is further aggravated by differences in stakeholders' concepts on ownership of knowledge and by uncertain or paradoxical effects of some potentially useful strategies. Thus, policymakers should address the multiple, multi-layered issues and questions, and try to develop a range of solutions in order to address and balance the various objectives and interests.
This article was published in Soc Sci Med
and referenced in Biochemistry & Physiology: Open Access