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August 05, 2006

Keep your stinking IP laws off my mata olho!

Brazil has a wonderful rep for not just rolling over and accepting the increasingly draconian intellectual property treaties being foisted on developing nations by the first world.(*) Their latest move comes in response to a growing trend. It goes like this:

1) Brazilians spend millennia eating some great tasting Brazilian plant that's also great for your health.
2) Foreign company learns about the plant.
3) Foreign company trademarks the plant name and starts selling the plant (turned into a health drink, or shampoo, or anti-aging cream, or brain-tonic pills, or God knows what else).
4) Some poor guy in Brazil opens up a local business cooking up the plant for the locals. (He uses the plant name in his company's name). He starts a little export business selling his product.
5) He gets the pants sued off of him because some company 5,000 miles away trademarked the plant name. Never mind the fact that folks in Brazil have been calling the plant by that name forever.
6) Repeat over and over.

Brazil has now come up with a wonderfully pragmatic way to break this cycle. They've compiled a list (here's a pdf) of more than 5,000 Portuguese language names of plants, seeds, roots, etc. They've shipped the list off to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and trademark offices around the world. The idea is that if all of these organizations and countries know a term is already in use they will be less likely to grant some company a trademark on it. Clever!

There's an article about all of this on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

(*) I was particularly proud of Brazil last year when they told US drug companies that they had no intention of paying overly high prices for AIDS drugs while many Brazilians were dying of the disease. They gave the drug companies a choice... offer us lower cost (Brazil translation: fairer cost) AIDS drugs or we'll break your patents and just make our own generic versions.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at August 5, 2006 06:16 AM


Very cool article, Chris. I saw it on Boing Boing today.

Brazil is taking a good first step in this battle. Every country, including us in the U.S., need to watching this situation.

Posted by: Daryl Kulak at August 5, 2006 11:16 AM

Brazillian policy towards AIDS is indeed remarkable... unfortunely this does not apply almost anything else around here.

Posted by: Pedro Markun at August 10, 2006 03:03 PM