Robert P. Wheelersburg & Sean Melvin

The Arctic has been a region long characterized by knowledge transfer between northern residents and people from southern states. Over the past few decades, the transfer of Arctic traditional knowledge (“TK” here including Indigenous knowledge) has accelerated at a fast pace due to research, the exploration and exploitation of resources, and movement of peoples in and out of the region. In some cases, TK has been lifted wholesale without consideration in an asymmetrical relationship. Southern residents have their intellectual property rights (IPY) protected by national and global level laws and agreements. Conversely, due to its nature as a communal property held and passed down through the generations at the societal level, TK from Arctic Indigenous peoples is not as well protected. This paper summarizes some national and global level IPY protections such as patents that could be applied to Indigenous TK. In addition, recent efforts by Saami and Inuit at the national and global levels, respectively, are reviewed. The authors recommend that Indigenous groups use their status as permeant participants on the Arctic Council to create and implement TK IPR that is appropriate to the nature of Indigenous societies and yet provides a sufficient level of protection for future generations. Such protection is important as the impacts of the melting ice cap will increase information transfer from the Arctic.

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