Does a declaration of “cultural heritage” constitute protection?

SciDevNet ran a story today outlining how “the Peruvian government has declared the knowhow associated with growing a variety of large-eared white maize to be ‘cultural heritage’”.  The item included some discussion about whether there was any legal effect to this move, and that of the earlier ‘designation of origin’ granted to the crop in 2005.

There are no specific details on the item – but its important to remember this is not an end in itself.  What we can say is that it doesn’t matter that it might not hold water in a legal sense, if that’s not the purpose.  Protection can be expansive as well as restrictive.  Such a move could for example serve to ensure the knowledge is officially documented and hence in the public domain.  Once in the public domain misappropriation is more difficult.

However, further probing might lead to questions such as: What would the community be expecting to get from this?  How has this been explained to them?  Then one would need to consider the legalities further to determine whether or not cultural heritage declaration or designation of origin are appropriate tools to meet the expectations.

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