History and Background of the Heritable Innovation Trust™


The Heritable Innovation Trust (H.I.T.) was created in 2008 based on the “Heritable Knowledge Framework and the Development of Communal Innovation Trusts” document as a program to provide a structured, international framework for the global diffusion of communal, traditional-based knowledge known as “heritable knowledge.” H.I.T. is an extension of M-CAM and has reached fifteen communities including Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, Mongolia, and Peru. Currently, intellectual property frameworks from major areas like Europe and the U.S. are not applicable across cultures; therefore, H.I.T. is constructing a new pathway to share heritable knowledge to connect cultures and increase global access.

Intellectual property (including patents, trademarks, and copyrights) rights have expiration dates, an element of static specificity, and a single owner. “Intellectual property rights,” as defined by the World Trade Organization (WTO), are “the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time.” However, this definition does not apply to heritable knowledge. There is no “creator,” “creation,” or “time” of origin. When applying this current structure, it allows those in “developed” countries to employ the system to their advantage. Persons of countries with a Patent Office (generally “developed” countries) are capable of creating legal patents by taking innovations that were originally heritable knowledge (of “developing” countries), and eventually they can place said innovations in the public domain. This makes the community innovations free and open without recognition or control given to the community causing it to lose its cultural value. This is primarily because of the “developed” world’s introspective tendencies to capitalize on opportunities for personal gain. The problem is that heritable knowledge exists in a community. Outsiders capitalizing on heritable knowledge excludes communities from their own knowledge and cultural aspects. On the other hand, the “developing” world has the propensity to look at situations and make decisions based on the community’s well-being. Heritable knowledge is communal, traditional-based knowledge that has been utilized for generations with a deliberate intent, not for personal gain.

H.I.T. seeks to construct a new paradigm from which communities can facilitate bilateral value exchange. The trust connects information exchange of the parties through a trust governed by contract law. Unlike intellectual property law, contracts can be created perpetually, inalienably, without jurisdictional limitation and to protect the benefit of an entire community. Through this system, the entire community can benefit from the heritable knowledge that has been passed down informally by the ancestors of their communities, rather than exclude itself from benefits. H.I.T. strives to protect and share heritable knowledge discovered and utilized by communities, while increasing fair, global accessibility. By entering into the trust, all involved parties agree to engage with each other in transparency and partnership. H.I.T. seeks to develop a more efficient paradigm in international intellectual property protocol that focuses on bilateral value exchange across cultural barriers.


*Photo provided by Runa

The mamala tree of the Samoan community is a prime example of what H.I.T. hopes to improve through employing bilateral value exchange (creating benefit for all parties involved). For generations, the Samoans have used the mamala tree to heal viral diseases (e.g. Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS). In 1990 an American ethnobotanist visited the community; the Samoan healers shared the tree’s properties with the ethnobotanist; he brought the information to the cancer institutes in the United States. In turn, derivatives of the organic compound were patented and the Samoans were excluded from using and producing their heritable knowledge. Recently, the Samoans have formed a few profit-sharing pacts, but they remain largely uncompensated and unrecognized. As mentioned, Heritable Innovation Trust’s goal is to prevent unintentional and intentional exploitation disenfranchisement. View a video explaining the full example HERE.

The future of the Heritable Innovation Trust is to reconstruct the international intellectual property framework to a system that is more internationally applicable using bilateral value exchange to connect cultures and increase global access.