The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
(TRIPs) and the Neem Tree: An Analysis of Impacts of Patenting
on a Natural and Cultural Resource
Nicola C. Ostertag
Worldwide intellectual property protection to promote global free trade has received much attention during the last years. The Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations led to the adoption of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), which provides a minimum standard of protection. In order to meet this standard, many developing countries, including India, will have to change their laws significantly.
This essay inquires whether an extensive intellectual property system, as required by TRIPs, enhances or hinders India in successfully managing its resources, exemplified by the neem tree, a native plant with a range of uses, religious to medicinal to pesticidal. The neem tree is a natural and cultural resource for India. Economic, legal, and technological developments with regard to neem indicate that plant material and indigenous knowledge continue to be appropriated without compensation. Indian research and industry could be stifled by foreign countries. Traditional agricultural practices may be abandoned. The biological diversity with regard to neem could decline. Overall, TRIPs may hinder the best management of neem for the Indian people. This outcome, however, is not due to intellectual property rights alone, but is a consequence of a capitalist economic system of which intellectual property protection is a tool. Further analysis of TRIPs is needed to determine the applicability of this conclusion to other resources.