Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Cultural Expressions and Intellectual Property Rights of Tribes in North-Eastern Region of India
India’s foray into the open world market under the aegis of World Trade Organization (WTO) has ushered in opportunities as well as vulnerabilities for indigenous communities in Northeastern states of India. The threat is more keenly felt in the realm of Traditional knowledge (TK) and Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCEs) as India has made its Intellectual Property (IP) regime compliant with the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Today tribal community faces potential loss and misappropriation of TK and Traditional Cultural TCEs mainly due to two reasons: lack of TK documentation and legal registration of TK and TCEs for protecting their ownership rights. These problems are further compounded by rapid loss of elders within the indigenous communities who are the repository of TK. This paper analyzed the implications of IP on tribal TK and TCEs in North-Eastern Region of India and presents legal mechanism for managing and protecting the Intellectual Property Rights of tribal communities. It established that the existing IPRs regime falls short in protecting and recognizing the inherent characteristic of TK such as collective innovation, collective ownership, and collective rights. It merely focuses on intellectual and commercial aspect of the knowledge, without addressing the extricable links between knowledge, identity, and spiritual values embedded in TK and TCEs. Taking cognizance with these underlining predicaments, the author recommends embarking on Tribal Knowledge Management System (TKMS) which aims at inventorying, codifying and registering the tacit knowledge (oral knowledge) of the tribes in Northeast-Eastern region. Recognizing the unique ethnic identity, history, culture of tribes in Northeast India, the paper recommends Community Based Documentation (CBD) approach in the process of inventorying the TK and TCEs. The paper underscored the urgency of documenting TK and TCEs of tribes in northeast region India for protecting their intellectual property rights.