Biodiversity Act: What you need to know
Researchers involved in the discovery phase of a project involving indigenous biological resources or traditional knowledge no longer need to obtain a bioprospecting permit.
The Biodiversity Act was amended in May 2009 to specify that bioprospecting permits are only required for the commercialisation phase of bioprospecting projects and/or for export. Although a permit does not need to be obtained, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs must be given notice of a bioprospecting project before the discovery phase begins. An undertaking to comply with the requirements of the Act if the project enters the commercialisation phase also needs to be given.
A bioprospecting project will be regarded as having entered the commercialisation phase once a complete patent application has been filed. Thus a bioprospecting permit will need to have been obtained by the time a complete patent application is filed.
Other amendments to the National Environment Management: Biodiversity Act that are relevant to bioprospecting are:
- definitions of “commercialisation” and “commercialisation phase of a bioprospecting project” have been inserted. These are the same as those in the regulations and do not change the requirements for obtaining bioprospecting permits;
- the interests of specific individuals who possess traditional knowledge have also been protected. Anyone who carries on the commercialisation phase of a bioprospecting project based on the traditional knowledge of a specific individual must now enter into a benefit sharing agreement with the individual; and
- the penalties for contravening the Act have been increased to a fine of up to R5 million for a first offence and up to R10 million for a subsequent offence, and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years.