Identifying and preventing biopiracy in Australia

patent landscapes and legal geographies for plants with Indigenous Australian uses

Daniel Robinson*, Margaret Raven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)


There are legal and moral imperatives to protect biological resources and the ‘traditional knowledge’ associated with them. These imperatives derive from complex legal geographies: international law (such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol), State and federal laws, Indigenous customary law, codes of ethics and research protocols. This paper reports on a ‘patent landscape’ analysis of patents that refer to Australian plant species for which there is Indigenous Australian knowledge. We have identified several patents of potential new biopiracy concern. The paper highlights the way in which actors can gain private property monopolies over biological resources and associated traditional knowledge, even though there are overlapping sovereign rights and Indigenous rights claims. Regulatory gaps need to be closed nationally to fully govern the diverse human–plant bio-geographies in Australia. Further, Indigenous laws and governance have largely been ignored by these actors. We suggest that the introduction of ‘disclosure of origin’ requirements in patent applications, sui generis Indigenous knowledge protections, the development of biocultural protocols, and a more nationally consistent system for ‘access and benefit-sharing’ are required to ensure more ‘fair and equitable’ use of plants and Indigenous knowledge in/from Australia, and to ensure the recognition of Indigenous rights to knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-331
Number of pages21
JournalAustralian Geographer
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • access and benefit-sharing
  • biological resources
  • biopiracy
  • Indigenous knowledge
  • legal geography
  • Nagoya Protocol
  • patent trends

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