Protecting rainforest-derived technology equitably

Author:Jorge A. Goldstein
Position:Senior Director, Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC, Washington DC, USA
32 February 2019
Indigenous peoples k nown as the Emberá live in the rainfores ts of Colombia. The
Emberá, traditionally semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, have lived in the Chocó region
at least since the sixtee nth century. They co-exist with Afro-colombian co mmunities
that settled the same terr itory from the colonial p eriod when they were brought as
slaves for mining operations. More re cently, the construction of the Pan-Ame rican
highway, mechanized illegal mining and large-scale deforestation have encroached
on the lives of these communities. Havin g lost their precious fores ts, many become
subsistence farmer s or employees in non-sustai nable activities.
One of the Emberá joys is body painting. For a s long as records show, they, and the
Afro-colombian co mmunities with whom they co-exist, have used the dark blu e juice
of the fruit from the jagua tree (Genipa americana) to decorate themselves for ri tuals,
ceremonies, or just for fu n.
In the early 2000s, a pr ivately-funded Colombian compa ny, Ecoora Cares, working
with an organic chemist from a l ocal university in Medellín, extracted the active ing re-
dient from the blue juice of the jagua f ruit and, through a novel process, developed a
stable and free-owing powder. The powder has a be autiful cobalt-blue color.
Ecoora wished to commercia lize the powder, but in a way that would respect the
sustainability of the fr uit and benet the local com munities from which it origina ted.
Therefore, in the spirit of the Convention fo r Biological Diversit y and the Nagoya Pro-
tocol (CBD/Nagoya), Ecoora worked with national and l ocal government and various
non-governmental organ izations (NGOs), to create a business and regulatory net work
that would allow them to ethically source the fr uit and develop the blue powder for use
as an additive for foods, drinks and co smetics. They entered into agre ements with
several Emberá community g roups to produce the jagua fruit for commercial par tners.
Through a benet sharing agreement, these Emberá suppliers share in benets (both
monetary and non- monetary) of any comme rcialization of the jagua-de rived blue
powder and its application.
About seven years ago, Ecoora app roached our law rm for help in obtai ning pat-
ents on the blue powder and its applic ations. They had learned of the rm’s pro bono
program through Public Intere st Intellectual Property Advisor s (PIIPA), an NGO based
in Washington, DC, that connects intellec tual propert y (IP) pro bono lawyers with
potential clients worldwide.
technology equitably
By Jorge A. Goldstein , Senior Director,
Sterne, Kessler, Golds tein & Fox PLLC,
Washington DC , USA

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