Patenting of Life Forms

Maori have long been concerned with the possible ability to patent life forms.

The Ministry of Commerce set up a focus group to provide recommendations. It has suggested the following options for reform of the patent system:

• Set up an effective process for working with relevant Maori groups to resolve issues about claims to ownership, use, control and protection rights with respect to life forms such as indigenous plants and animals;

• Amend the Patents Act to require decision-makers to recognize and provide for Treaty of Waitangi and Maori interests and values in the granting of patents.

Options for this could include inserting a treaty clause such as “all persons exercising any functions or powers under this Act shall take into account the Treaty of Waitangi” and expressly require consideration of Maori concerns, values, relationships with other life forms, tribal or other traditional customs and values. It is also suggested that the Patents Act be amended to exclude patenting of certain life forms such as humans and parts of humans, or highly significant species and include a new ground for objection to, or revocation of, a patent as “contrary to Maori values and interests”.

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