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To some extent, traditional knowledge can be protected under various intellectual property laws, but there is no effective international legal protection for this subject matter. This has led to proposals for a sui generis regime to protect traditional knowledge. The precise contours of the right are yet to be determined but a sui generis right could include perpetual protection. It could also result in protection for historical communal works and for knowledge that may be useful but that is not inventive according to the standards of intellectual property law.

Developing countries have been more supportive of an international traditional knowledge right than developed countries; they have also been critical of the impact of intellectual property rights on social issues such as access to medicines and access to educational materials. This article uses a development-focused, instrumentalist approach to assess the implications of a sui generis traditional knowledge right.