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Collective trademarks and biocultural heritage: towards new indications of distinction for indigenous peoples in the Potato Park, Peru

The indigenous farmers of the Potato Park in Cusco, Peru, produce goods drawn from their collective traditional knowledge, biodiversity and fundamental ties to the land: their ‘biocultural heritage’. How can they promote these products, while also protecting their collective intellectual property? Existing intellectual property tools tend to be unsuitable for this purpose, and even ‘soft’ intellectual property tools such as collective trademarks and geographical indications can be beyond the legal and financial capacity of remote rural communities.

This paper presents the experience of the Potato Park communities in applying for formal protection through a collective trademark, and also in adopting an informal trademark for their products and services. The process of registering the collective trademark brought to light the incompatibility of the registration requirements with Peruvian law on indigenous governance, and the application was unsuccessful. The Potato Park communities have instead opted to use their trademark informally, and it is now widely recognised as a distinctive symbol of the Park. A survey found that as well as raising prices and increasing sales, the mark has helped to ensure social cohesion.

However, while the trademark is informal, it lacks protection. This report concludes with a proposal for an alternative indigenous ‘biocultural heritage indication’ (BCHI) which could draw on geographical indications, design rights and unfair competition law. Such a tool could open up the current IPR system to rural communities, alleviating poverty while protecting traditional knowledge, and strengthening biological and cultural diversity.

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Argumedo, A. (2013). Collective trademarks and biocultural heritage: towards new indications of distinction for indigenous peoples in the Potato Park, Peru. IIED, London.
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