Where there is access to or acquisition of biodiversity (and/or related traditional knowledge) without prior informed consent, including prior informed consent about benefit sharing, on the part(s) of those whose biodiversity (or traditional knowledge) has been “accessed” or “acquired”, there is biopiracy—i.e., theft.*

—defined by the Edmonds Institute and biopirate hunter Jay McGown.

Intellectual property rights, which include biopiracy, is in part culturally situational, and there are no clear blanket answers to how to respect and codify them. In general, however, the poor, at whatever scale (from individual to nations of the third world) tend to be preyed upon by the non-poor, as in this example from Africa. But there are plenty of examples of the haves feeling like they’ve been stolen from: think of the many music tracks distributed via Napster, plus the torrents of current shows and movies, etc. How much is this nabbing of intellectual property “just” human nature? How much is it a consequence of our pervasive economic system, Capitalism?

Certainly, the current buzz about Google and Yahoo and the rest doing business in China vs. the attitudes of the Chinese government suggests the latter reigns. But, what if it’s also human nature to take (“beg, borrow, and steal”?)? How do we deal with this on the international scale then?

Either way, stay tuned to your favorite RSS streams or other information sources and you will encounter the latest news stories regarding intellectual property rights.

* From Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit of Sharing (2006, Edmonds Institute and African Centre for Biosafety), page i. Download it here. The Edmonds Institute is a 501(c)(3) organization “committed to the health and sustainability of ecosystems and their inhabitants.” BTW, pages 8 and 9 discuss Hoodia, an appetite suppressant from a cactus that grows in the Namibian desert; development of Hoodia was based on traditional knowledge of the !San (used to be called Bushmen), and they receive only minor royalties from one company that sells Hoodia products. In most cases cited in this document, local peoples receive no compensation whatsoever. However, in many examples the organism used for the patent (or pharmaceutical or enzyme or …) is not explicitly linked to indigenous knowledge, so it’s difficult to evaluate the intellectual property rights involved.