Protection of Cultural Heritage

Protection of Cultural Heritage


UNESCO defines cultural heritage as, “the cultural legacy that we receive from the past, which we live in the present and which we will pass on to the future generations.” Our cultural heritage is an integral part of our lifestyle and are specific to different communities, countries etc. There are two types of cultural heritage, tangible and intangible. Tangible heritage includes heritage sites like historical temples, palaces etc, artifacts and archaeological sites and intangible heritage includes stories passed on orally through generations, traditional handicrafts, rituals, knowledge based on use of flora and fauna and cultural practices.

Protection of Traditional Knowledge

Indian cultural heritage is rich and has been developed over generations, often making use of the natural resources. These examples of cultural heritage that involve the use of natural resources are termed as traditional knowledge. This knowledge consists of know-hows, skills and practices which aid in scientific and medical research and finds solution to various problems in the scientific and medical field. The traditional knowledge is developed over generations and carried forward by communities due to their benefits. Often, traditional knowledge is useful because it stems from the natural resources available to a community in their surroundings. India is rich in such indigenous traditional knowledge because of its rich biodiversity. However, such traditional knowledge can be stolen by developed nations who through globalization and establishment of trade relations can access the biodiversity and natural resources of developing nations which are rich in biodiversity, like India.

Stealing of traditional knowledge is also known as bio-piracy and it leads in the commercialization of traditional knowledge by developing nations while indigenous communities who were depending on such knowledge and skills for their livelihood are left without due credit and financial burden. Hence, India has come up with the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which is a digital documentation of publicly available traditional knowledge. It is accessed by anyone looking to apply for patenting an invention that might involve the use of a natural resource so that they can check if they are trying to patent something that has been already known to an indigenous community in the form of a traditional knowledge. The digital library is also helpful to researchers and Patent Offices across the world.

Referring to the TKDL would help prevent stealing of traditional knowledge and also it can be used to find evidence in case a patent is wrongfully granted to someone or bio-piracy occurs in violation of the interests of the traditional knowledge holders. Another steps that can be taken in order to prevent bio-piracy the Intellectual Property Law regime in India combined with the sui-generis system can be used. It will ensure an equitable share of benefits through prior informed consent with regards to what is being shared and what is being given in return for the resources being shared. That way the information which goes out to the developed nations is in control of the indigenous communities of developing nations like India.

Cultural expressions are symbols, artifacts or any creative work that is the outcome of the cultural identity or cultural heritage of its creator. These can be protected by granting copyright over it to the community from which it originates.

Use of Geographical Indication Tags

The GI tags are granted to products that have certain qualities that is to be attributed to the place or region of its origin. Elements of cultural heritage like craft works, methods of weaving, handiworks, agricultural products can be registered with GI tags in favor of the state or community they were developed in and by, respectively. This would secure the economic benefits for the producers or artisans who work on those products and legally recognize them as the true owners. The registration will be useful as evidence in case any unauthorized entity tries to claim proprietorship over the GI tagged product.


Cultural heritage is an important aspect of any community as it connects them together and helps in their development. Cultural heritage is also the source of income of various indigenous communities so, stealing or misappropriating cultural heritage of any community will result in loss of livelihood for several members of the community.

As cultural expressions are used for commercial gains they should be brought into the purview of intellectual property law regime and provided protection. The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is a step in the right direction to document traditional knowledge in an attempt to spread awareness with regards to traditional knowledge evidence of prior art when it comes to inventions involving natural resources. Such other steps which would help provide security to the rich cultural heritage of developing nations should be adopted and implemented. Existing elements of IPR including copyright, GI tags, patenting etc has to be applied to cultural expressions and new ideas like the suis-generis system should also be welcomed for better protection.

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