Protecting the age-old culture and body of knowledge of indigenous people has become a topical issue. Three options are usually canvassed for such — a typical western intellectual model, a typical customary law model and a sui generis model. More often than not, these options still mirror intellectual property paradigms and the reason is not far-fetched. Intellectual property generally has to do with property rights, innovation and ownership. Hence, indigenous people’s claim to ownership of their knowledge and innovations are usually associated with the canons of intellectual property. However, several views and arguments abound on the practicability of protecting indigenous knowledge with intellectual property principles. The literature addresses themes such as catering for the spiritual elements of indigenous knowledge, originality requirement, public domain concerns, among others. Instructively, little or nothing has been done on analyzing the philosophical undertone behind these arguments. By way of contributing to knowledge, this paper presents five underlying perspectives that frame divergent views in the debate on protecting indigenous knowledge — subjective descriptions of property, views on authorship, views of cultural orthodoxy versus cultural pluralism, Vermeylen’s legalistic and anthropological approaches and optimism of the modern era. Like a matrix, set of theoretical principles and founding philosophies of thoughts, these inter-related perspectives directly and inadvertently shape various articulations, propositions and deliberations on the subject. This paper engages this discourse outlining precisely what these underlying perspectives are, whilst also noting their relative strength and flaws. It is expected that this will present future researchers with a clear philosophical categorization of arguments in the debate on indigenous knowledge protection.


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pp. 81-105
Launched on MUSE
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