Defining Fair Share
When Oluwatobiloba (Tobi) Moody decided he wanted to pursue a PhD in law, he knew he wanted to do it in Canada. It was a realization the Nigerian-born law scholar came to while pursuing his master’s degree in South Africa, where he was specializing in international trade and investment law. That is when he first learned about the Nagoya Protocol – an initiative administered by a secretariat based out of Montreal – and knew he had found a focus for his doctoral research.
An international agreement intended to ensure that everyone benefits when non-human genetic resources, like plants and animals, are used in scientific and commercial research, the Nagoya Protocol ultimately seeks to protect genetic resources and the traditional knowledge associated with them.
“Picture a community of indigenous people who have used a particular resource for a long time, one that is symbolic of a way of life for them,” says Moody, explaining that a longstanding battle has existed between industry and developing countries around the use of genetic resources, many of which make their way into pharmaceuticals.
“For example – imagine they had a plant that people chewed on and could then walk for days without eating. And then industry, drawing inspiration from their knowledge of it, used that same plant to create a slimming drug.”
Under the Nagoya Protocol, the company that created that drug is required to share benefits in some mutually agreeable way with that indigenous group – which could include both monetary and non-monetary benefits.
“It’s really about the redistribution of wealth,” Moody explains. “Developing countries and indigenous groups are saying: We want our rights to be acknowledged. We want our role in such inventions based on the use of our traditional knowledge to be recognized. We want royalties paid, or we want to be joint owners of intellectual property rights with industry.’ Or sometimes they want an intangible benefit, like social recognition, or institutional capacity building.”
As a lawyer, Moody is interested in looking at how the Nagoya Protocol, which only formally entered into force in 2014 (it was first adopted in October 2010), is being implemented internationally. “I am looking at how effective it will be,” he says. “Because if it can’t be effective, then it’s just theoretical. It will add to the number of international agreements, but will it really address the problem it was created to resolve?”
For Moody, who started his degree at Queen’s in September 2012 under the supervision of Professor Bita Amani, it is a question that resonates on a personal level: his father grew up assisting a traditional healer in Nigeria – one who used traditional plants as medicine – and then went on to become a pharmacist. “When my father talks about drug development, he also has traditional knowledge,” he says. “He knows almost all the plants by name.”
Awarded a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, one of the country’s most prestigious academic awards, in 2014, Moody is quick to stress that his research is focused on the legal, rather than the ethical, issues around the Nagoya Protocol. He remains fascinated by the challenges inherent in balancing the needs of both indigenous groups and industry. That’s why he opted to spend almost two years at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, Switzerland as part of his research in a bid to better understand the intersection between the intellectual property system and the Nagoya Protocol.
“Corporations are empowered by the intellectual property system to do their research and have traditionally had a monopoly over the benefits that come,” he says. “But for many indigenous groups, knowledge is not associated with one person – it grows in a group. So it hasn’t been protected with a Western system of intellectual property. The Nagoya Protocol represents an effort to rebalance things.”
Moody, who is aiming to wrap up his degree by 2016, is eyeing an international career in policy work and ultimately hopes to move into an academic teaching position. For now, he is grateful for the opportunities he has had at Queen’s. “I wouldn’t trade being here for anything,” he says warmly. “The university has supported my research and permitted me to spend time off campus. They understand what I need to make this research better.”
(e)Affect Issue 8 Fall/Winter 2015