Social Science

Intellectual property protection for traditional medical knowledge in China's context: a round peg in a square hole?

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This article is an examination of the extent to which traditional medical knowledge in China can be protected by intellectual property laws. The analysis begins by providing a global picture with regard to the historic origin of intellectual property, exploring the reasons why China does not have indigenous counterparts to the western system of intellectual property rights protecting its traditional knowledge (including traditional medical knowledge) and stating the problems of transplanting western intellectual property standards in China. A discussion follows on how China, under foreign pressure, has made efforts to comply with the changing standards mandated by various international, regional, and bilateral arrangements related to intellectual property, with examples of the development of China's patent law. China's approach towards the protection of traditional medical knowledge in various international fora related to intellectual property is explored. Finally, there is a specific examination of the compatibilities between the western system of intellectual property rights and traditional medical knowledge in China, at the national and community levels. This article argues that the system of intellectual property rights does not easily fit with China's traditional medical knowledge because of China's unique cultural traits, distinctive historical context and wide ethnic, religious, and local community diversity.