The role of ethics in the commercialization of traditional knowledge

Document Type


Publication Date



Much has been written about indigenous knowledge and intellectual property rights (IPRs) in fields like anthropology and law. However, it remains an under-examined topic in business and management literature. In this article, we review the emerging contentious discourse, definitional issues and underlying assumptions of the western IPR and indigenous knowledge management systems. We highlight the similarities and differences between the two approaches. We argue that adopting a view that law is socially constructed with ethical underpinnings helps sort out the thorny issues related to indigenous knowledge ‘expropriation’. To do this, we draw on the role of ethical norms in the historical evolution of IPRs regimes. Finally, grounded in Stakeholder Theory, we conclude with a discussion of managerial implications.

Publisher's Statement

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013. Publisher's version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1640-3

Publication Title

Journal of Business Ethics