Assistant Professor, Native Studies, University of Alberta
Why is the cultural heritage of some communities considered part of the public domain and subject to being commodified without consent? What happens when intellectual property rights surrounding these commodities become so heavily policed that descendant communities are virtually barred from using their own cultural heritage? Questions such as these—epitomized by the self-portrait at left, This sweater cost me $2010—illustrate the everyday political lives of trademarks, copyrights and patents of concern to former lawyer and University of British Columbia (UBC) Visiting Scholar, Sean Robertson. Now working with IPinCH Advisor and UBC Professor of Law Robert Paterson, Sean earned his PhD in the Simon Fraser University Department of Geography, exploring the interactions between international and national laws, the tensions between the public domain and the protection of traditional knowledge, and the politicization of intellectual property. His collaborative research with British Columbia First Nations communities addressed the use of traditional ecological knowledge in political and legal struggles. For this doctoral research, Sean received funding from SSHRC as well as the Law Foundation of British Columbia. His supervisor was SFU’s Nicholas Blomley; his committee members from York University were Ruth Buchanan, Jennifer Hyndman, and Rosemary J. Coombe, co-chair of the IPinCH Customary, Conventional and Vernacular Legal Forms Working Group.