Access to Knowledge and the Promotion of Innovations: Challenges for Pacific Island States

17 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2012

See all articles by Susan Farran

Susan Farran

Northumbria University; University of the South Pacific

Date Written: September 12, 2011


In the island countries of the south Pacific traditional knowledge informs access to, use and production of cultural artifacts, flora and fauna, medicines, plant stocks and the management of natural resources. All too often however, this indigenous knowledge is ignored by the intellectual property regimes expressed in the formal legal systems of these countries. With pressure to develop trade and use resources to earn income as well as agendas to encourage inward investment from foreign enterprises, the acknowledgement of and accommodation of traditional knowledge and indigenous intellectual property rights is at risk of being marginalized or misrepresented. All too often western-centric IP laws are adopted which tend to favor industrialized nations’ perceptions of the role and function of intellectual property.

At the same time, however, there is international rhetoric recognizing the rights of indigenous people and the rights of autonomy of developing states to determine the pace and form of development. There is also regional acknowledgement of the valuable role of traditional knowledge and global demand for the preservation of biodiversity, land and sea-based eco-systems and traditional cultures.

Pacific islands are torn between the desire and demand to exploit traditional knowledge and advocacy of its protection and preservation. The situation is not helped by plural legal regimes which reflect not only a legacy of colonial rule, but also international obligations and expectations, regional initiatives, and national responses and the recognition of customary law as a formal source of law.

This paper considers comes of the current dilemmas facing Pacific island states, which, while they have a rich cultural heritage and extensive unwritten traditional knowledge, are also facing the challenges of compliance with externally imposed goals through the development of intellectual property laws fit for the twenty-first century.

Keywords: traditional knowledge, indigenous, development, Pacific, cultural heritage

JEL Classification: Z10, K00, N57, N17, O10, J79

Suggested Citation

Farran, Susan, Access to Knowledge and the Promotion of Innovations: Challenges for Pacific Island States (September 12, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Susan Farran (Contact Author)

Northumbria University ( email )

City Campus East
208, City Campus East-1
Newcastle upon tyne, NE1 8ST
United Kingdom

University of the South Pacific ( email )

Laucala Campus

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