Intellectual property and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples
As we open National Intellectual Property Month this April, in line with Presidential Proclamation No. 190 (2017), it is essential to highlight that the celebration was meant to advance public appreciation of the significance of intellectual property to the country’s social, cultural, economic, and technological development. The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) should give life to this purpose by intensifying its efforts to reach out to indigenous cultural communities (indigenous peoples) who, unfortunately, have been left behind in protecting their rights from infringement.
Cultural appropriation has been a pervasive experience in the country. Numerous cases of indigenous handicrafts, symbols, and attires replicated by knitting machines from abroad have been introduced, killing the traditional weaving industries in the countryside. Several misleading claims have also been discovered in various e-commerce platforms, with products allegedly originating from indigenous communities. An example of this is the selling of fake Ifugao Tinawon rice that was found to be planted in lowland provinces—away from the ancestral domains of the different Ifugao cultural communities.
Appreciatively, the IPOPHL has been open to supporting indigenous cultural communities. As part of the Australia Alumni Grant Scheme, director general Rowel Barba and the directors of IPOPHL visited Kiangan, Ifugao, and immersed themselves in the community. They walked for hours in the rice terraces and visited a traditional mountain weaving facility. The weavers of Lih’han di Immipugo then shared their unique experiences with IPOPHL. After the experience, IPOPHL then conducted their seminar workshops before the community. The event was a success as several community members took the opportunity to register their intellectual creations during the event. Municipal councils have also been convinced to start registering geographical indications under the recently approved rules and regulations issued by the IPOPHL.
This is a step in the right direction and crucial to sustaining the momentum. Indigenous peoples are not opposed to the notion of intellectual property protection. However, there should be a sober discussion to nuance the policies to consider each community’s distinctive traditions and practices. The participation of indigenous cultural communities and the IPOPHL’s willingness to listen are critical components of the dialogue. Eventually, this may pave the way for traditional knowledge to be covered by a special legal regime that preserves indigenous culture and maintains the diversity of our living heritage.
Raymond Marvic C. Baguilat