The MEM Seminar Series 2004/2005


A number of industries share a keen interest in Nature’s repository of flora and fauna as a source of valuable raw materials for use in various biotechnology, pharmaceutical, health supplement and cosmetics businesses. Substantial financial investments are made when screening organic material for bio-active organic compounds, product testing, as well as in the research and development process. These are steps taken towards the ultimate goal of commercially exploiting new drugs, nutraceuticals, or other outputs which have useful properties derived from substances with natural origins.


Intellectual property is commonly sought over these new products as a means of recouping the heavy capital expenditure incurred by the lengthy, and often uncertain, process of bringing these products to the marketplace.


Apart from the intellectual effort and labour of the scientists and researchers who work on these products, many of these products could not have emerged without the less obvious contributions of those States, organisations and communities which have played a role in conserving and managing the original genetic resources from which these organic innovations were first discovered. Local and indigenous communities may have, in particular, made significant contributions to the identification of biological resources with beneficial properties, transferring significant storehouses of knowledge related to the use of these resources, which may have accumulated over many generations, to bio-prospecting scientists and researchers.


One of the current controversies in the international intellectual property arena relates to the propriety of employing intellectual property mechanisms to secure exclusive rights over organic innovations, as well as the need to secure proper recognition for the traditional knowledge contributions of local and indigenous peoples.


This seminar will introduce current developments within the international intellectual property community to integrate traditional knowledge systems into existing intellectual property frameworks, as well as to create new sui generis legal frameworks to protect the traditional knowledge of local and indigenous communities around the world.  Examples from different jurisdictions will be used to illustrate the legislative steps which have been taken to ensure that the interests of their native communities are adequately safeguarded from incidents of bio-piracy.  In addition, this lecture will provide an overview of the recent efforts of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) towards devising an international strategy to prevent the inequitable exploitation of traditional knowledge relating to the use of genetic resources from which patentable innovations are developed.

About the speaker

Assistant Professor Burton Ong teaches at the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore. His teaching and research interests lie in the fields of Contract Law, Intellectual Property Law and Competition Law.  Graduating at the head of his LL.B and B.C.L classes at NUS and Oxford University, where he was awarded a Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal and the Vinerian Scholarship respectively, he has also completed the LL.M programme at Harvard Law School and has been called to the bar in Singapore and New York State.


His involvement with the MEM programme dates back to 2001. Since then, he has given public lectures, graduate seminars, and supervised a graduate thesis relating to the regulation of access to genetic resources under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the commercial exploitation of biological resources from in-situ sources.


A Fellow of the IP Academy, he also teaches Patent Law to graduate students who are enrolled in its certification programmes. In December 2003, he also took a lead role in planning and executing an international conference on “Intellectual Property and Biological Resources”, held in Singapore, and is currently editing a book with contributions from the speakers who presented papers at this conference.




Fitting Nature’s Organic Innovations into the Intellectual Property Framework:

Regulating Access to Genetic Resources & Traditional Knowledge





Mr. Burton Ong

Assistant Professor,

Faculty of Law,

National University of Singapore


Date and Venue

Saturday, 11 September 2004

10:00 am – 12:00 noon

Executive Room 5

School of Design and Environment

SDE 2  Level 3



All are welcome


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please call Ms Wong Mei Yin

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