7 Steps Tribes Can Take Now to Prepare for US Patent Office Consultations

Attorney Jeffrey Nelson

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is not the first place tribes and practitioners of traditional knowledge have historically turned to protect Indigenous culture. The USTPO operates mainly to commodify, quantify, and draw borders around who may know what, in the service of protecting proprietary knowledge.

Tribal cultural knowledge generally does not operate in these ways, so the USPTO has never been a particularly good fit in preventing traditional knowledge and resources from being exploited by others who can wield the USPTO system to their advantage. The USPTO is taking steps to change that.

On January 16, 3:00-5:00 ET and January 17, 3:00-5:00 ET a tribal consultation will be held to discuss genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. These discussions will be part of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s efforts to define these terms and, significantly, to develop a treaty to protect these resources that balances the need for disclosure of the practices while also safeguarding closely held knowledge.

Here are action items if your tribe is interested in learning more about protecting your traditional resources:

  1. Read the Law360 article below and the meeting notice;
  2. Register for the Tribal Consultation: https://cvent.me/bZRP3L
  3. Reach out to your community to determine what traditional resources exist, what are in danger from habitat destruction, climate change or exploitation, and what could be protected under these proposals;
  4. Work with your practitioners and/or attorneys to submit written comments prior to the Consultation;
  5. Review how your resources are protected now—Do you have codes that limit who may take or use resources or knowledge within your jurisdiction? Are (beneficial) contracts in place for those that are using tribal resources? Has the tribal cultural department applied for grants specifically for the protection and maintenance of traditional knowledge and resources?
  6. Take this opportunity to assess the health of your traditional resources and how protections could be strengthened.
  7. Get in touch with mctlaw to assist in these assessments, and any steps you take in protecting your tribe’s traditional knowledge and resources.
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