Better protection, management of Sabah’s traditional resources

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Fuziah (centre) receiving a souvenir from Gerald.

KOTA KINABALU (June 11): MyIPO and Sabah Biodiversity Centre (SaBC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure the effective protection and management of traditional and genetic resources in Sabah.

“This MoU allows us to together carry out protection, and research our traditional knowledge treasures and build a digital library,” said Federal Deputy Domestic Trade and Costs of Living Minister, Senator Fuziah Salleh.

She reminded that the failure to protect the traditional knowledge and biodiversity from now on could result in ‘bio-piracy’, where outsiders will steal the country’s intellectual property.

“Traditional knowledge is an important part of our intellectual property. It is an issue that we have overlooked or have not put enough seriousness into compiling the information and data,” she said.

She added that considering Malaysia is in the top 12 in the world with regards to biodiversity, the country is a mega diversity in the world.

“It is very timely, and I think, not too late, to start this effort and initiate the effort. At the moment we have 8,664 items in our traditional knowledge digital library. And we hope that with this understanding there will be a merging of data. Hopefully we can reach 10,000 by the end of the year,” she said during a media conference held after launching the 2024 Sabah Level Biodiversity Day celebration seminar and roundtable traditional knowledge at the Hilton Hotel on Tuesday.

Out of the 8,664 traditional items in the digital library, a total of 1,664 items are from Sabah and Sarawak, and out of that, 279 items are from Sabah, she said.

“But with the merging, we are expecting more,” she said.

Fuziah said the Sabah Museum has also been compiling the traditional knowledge as well as putting all the resources together and then putting it into the digital library so that prior knowledge is available just in case there is an application later on for a patent on something that has already been considered as traditional knowledge.

She added that by having the digital library, people will not easily ask to do patents when others have already done the work prior to that.

Fuziah also said that the purpose of the MoU is to foster the cooperation further so that they can work together, protect together, advocate together, train the community on the understanding of traditional knowledge and foster the understanding to protect the traditional knowledge.

The purpose of the MoU is to gather, collect and put in one digital library, she explained further.

Among the items included in the traditional knowledge digital library are the useful plants of Sabah Murut people totaling 105 items, Sabah’s medicinal plants from the Tambunan district and also the Rungus people of Kudat, totaling altogether 279 items, she said.

Reporters were also informed that the traditional knowledge digital library was not for public consumption but will serve as the reference for MyIPO patent officers so that they will be able to reject outside applications for patents on similar traditional knowledge that have been recorded, she said.

“In our library, it may show it is the knowledge of a previous community, so it is a protection for them,” she added.

She explained that once someone registers for intellectual property, they have royalty from it, even if it belonged to other communities before this.

“For example, if they claim they have found a herb and mention it is for healing certain illnesses and they patent that, commercialise it, when in fact, prior to that, the traditional knowledge already belonged to the communities. The Muruts may have it, the Dusun may have it, and the Rungus may have it already. That is why this native treasure needs to be protected,” she said.

Fuziah also commended MyIPO and SaBC for their excellent work and warned that if the cooperation was embarked on, there would be a possibility of bio-piracy taking place.

She reiterated the importance of protecting the traditional knowledge to protect against bio-piracy since the potential is there.

“They could have read somewhere and then they go to the villages and ‘korek korek’ (digs) and they come out with some medication and then commercialise it, and then they patent it. So this is where all this traditional knowledge digital library can assist our officers to know what the prior documentation prior to this is. That is how we protect. Otherwise, the communities will lose out, they will not get their royalty.”

“This new pharmaceutical company that enters the rural place to get the knowledge, make documentation and carry out research, commercialise and carry out patenting. That is why we must protect (against),” she added.

Representing MyIPO at the event was its Deputy Director General (Strategic and Technical) Yusnieza Syarmila Yusoff, while SaBC was represented by secretary, Gerald Jetony.