The new WIPO’s treaty on patents using genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge

After years of negotiations, on May 24, 2024 the WIPO Member States approved a new treaty, marking a historic turning point about the international discipline on patents regarding genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge

Genetic resources, such as medical plants, agricultural crops and animal species, as well as traditional knowledge, are essential to many modern inventions. Although these cannot be directly protected as intellectual property, the inventions developed by using such resources and knowledge can, often through filing patent applications. Genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated to these resources, which passed down from generation to generation in indigenous populations and local communities, are, as a matter of fact, sometimes crucial in the context of scientific research and in the development of new inventions.

The WIPO’s treaty gives importance to such resources and knowledge by enhancing them and at the same time promoting their conservation.

What the new WIPO’s Treaty says

The treaty aims to improve the efficiency, transparency and quality of the patent protection system and to prevent patents from being erroneously granted for inventions that are neither new nor original with regards to genetic resources and tradition knowledge associated to genetic resources.

In particular, the new WIPO’s treaty establishes that, when an invention claimed in a patent application is based on genetic resources, each contracting State refers to the applicants to disclose the Country of origin and the source of the genetic resources. If, on the other hand, the invention is based on traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, the applicants must disclose the indigenous population or the local community where the knowledge comes from or the source of the traditional knowledge associated with the genetic resources.

This requirement of disclosure assures transparency and the acknowledgement of contributions of the local communities and indigenous populations, promoting a higher equality in the patent system and contributing to the protection of the rights of these populations and communities.

The operativity of the treaty

The treaty will become bounding after three months from the deposit of the instruments of ratification or accession by at least 15 Member States. Moreover, the States will have to put in place juridical, political and administrative measures suitable to make effective the disclosure obligation of the above-mentioned information by the patent applicants.

The normative text under exam is considered a balanced tradeoff of the various interests at stake that is, on one hand, the need to protect inventions and, on the other, the protection of genetic resources and knowledge passed down from traditions. In particular, this is the first Treaty that addresses specifically the thematic at issue, showing that the system of intellectual property is able to continue to promote innovation, by evolving inclusively with particular attention and sensibility in relation to the protection of information and knowledge inherent in indigenous populations and local communities.


In brief, the adoption of the treaty represents an important step towards an intellectual property system with broader areas of protection, that recognizes and values the transparency in the management of genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with them. Moreover, it establishes a normative framework which strengthen international cooperation in relation to the protection of rights of population and communities which have developed and preserved such knowledge for generations.


Elena Bandinelli