Tangled Webs and Distal Horizons

Senior Common Room - Law Building
Wednesday 17 October 2018 (13:00-14:00)
Photo of the University Crest
  • BLS Research Seminar 
  • Dr Peter Harrison (York Law School)
  • Tangled Webs and Distal Horizons. Investigating the justifiable downstream limits to indigenous peoples’ control of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources.

Postgraduate students and academic staff are welcome to attend.


Plants contain a wealth of chemical compounds, some honed by evolution to have remarkably specific pharmacological activity, and such compounds form the basis for many currently prescribed drugs. Throughout history the scientific understanding that a plant was of potential therapeutic benefit often arose out of the traditional knowledge of indigenous healers or traditional medicine systems. It can still do so.  However, Western pharmaceutical researchers have often treated such knowledge to be a free resource, insufficient of merit to warrant any form of compensation to its original holders.

International initiatives, such as the Nagoya Protocol to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, have created (or are creating) “access and benefit sharing” rights which seek to ensure that genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with such genetic resources (“TKAGR”) cannot be used without the consent of rights holders.

However, pharmaceutical development processes are complex; a piece of TKAGR can be mixed with other information or used as an inspiration for further research. Many research activities, though in fact causally dependent upon the TKAGR, will be remote from the initial inspiration.

This work asks whether a point arises where the gain derived by the downstream pharmaceutical researcher from the use of a piece of TKAGR can be considered to be too remote to warrant a philosophically justifiable control over it by the original indigenous holders of that knowledge.

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