Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation (International Conservation and Development)

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Chris Servheen

Commitee Members

Kristen Juras, Matt McKinney, Steve Siebert


Biotechnology, bioprospecting, biopiracy, international patent law


University of Montana


Patents spur technological innovation; often, patented technologies have helped diminish the impact of some of the world’s most pressing concerns: from population growth, to world hunger, to global warming. A more contentious side of patents has emerged within the last several decades as more information is gathered on the sources and origins of biotechnological patents, evidencing misappropriation of traditional knowledge and resources, biopiracy. Biopiracy has been studied in detail for the social justice implications of wrongfully acquiring property of indigenous and traditional groups, but the literature is nearly void of the ecological implications of different patent regimes. International treaties and discussions have addressed the need to combat biopiracy and enable appropriate mechanisms of benefit sharing, but the implementation and success of laws and regulations guided by the treaties on a national level have been varied and inadequately quantified. This comment explores the international agreements governing intellectual property and access to natural resources, and examines how such agreements have been enacted in three countries: the United States, India, and Brazil. This comment then draws connections between the laws and policies of each country and their ecological environment. The goal of this comment is to draw attention to the direct ecological impact of patent laws in each country and the different national approaches to combat biopiracy. This comment will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the variety of approaches and suggest ways to move forward with patent law and alternative mechanisms that are more conducive to balancing private property rights and technological innovation with biodiversity conservation and social justice.

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