Measures to tackle bio-piracy: Safeguards for India's traditional medicine and knowledge

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New York:  Not too long ago, India almost choked at the thought of our very own 'basmati' being someone else's patent. And it took a colossal effort to revoke the patents on both 'neem' and turmeric. In fact, there are between 1500-2000 patents examined every year in countries like the UK and the USA that are related to Indian systems of medicine.

Now, there is new hope for India's traditional knowledge to stay free from the clutches of profiteering multinationals that seek to patent products that have been part and parcel of our way of life.

At the convention on bio diversity held here in New York as a part of the United Nations General Assembly in September, countries like India, South Africa, Brazil, China and Colombia reiterated the need to conserve biodiversity, use it sustainably, and share the benefits in a fair manner.

"India has long been a victim of bio-piracy. The aim is to ensure that our bio diversity is protected and traditional knowledge is rewarded," said Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

And this is where TKDL steps in. It is a collaborative project between the Council of Scientific Research (India) and Department of AYUSH to prevent the misappropriation of traditional knowledge belonging to India at International Patent Offices. India has signed agreements with the European Patent Office, United States Patent and trademark office, Canadian Intellectual Property Office, German Patent Office and United Kingdom Patent Office. The big advantage: if there is any new patent that comes up for examination in these countries that's related to India's traditional knowledge - the patent examining body can access India's database to see if it is worthy of a patent and/or reject the application. Since the database is available in a number of languages like Spanish, German, French, English Japanese, it helps bridge the gap between the patent examiners and traditional knowledge.

"Recently, M/s Avesthagen Limited India had filed a patent application using 'arjuna' as cardio tonic for the treatment of obesity and diabetes. Using this system, evidence was submitted, the patent application was withdrawn," said Mr. Ramesh.

And this is not an isolated case.

  • M/s Jaffe Russell M, USA filed a patent application in 2006 using 'babool' for the treatment of constipation, indigestion and diabetes.

  • M/s Haelen Schweiz of Switzerland filed a patent application using 'alsi' and pomegranate for the treatment of diseases of heart, skin and diabetes.

  • In 2006, M/s Natreon Inc, USA filed a patent application using 'ashwagandha' for treatment of stress, sleeplessness and anxiety.

  • Great Birtain's M/s GW Pharma Limited filed a patent application in 2006 using 'bhaang' for the treatment of cough and bronchitis.

  • Chinese company M/s jumpsun Bio-Medicine Co. Ltd. filed an application in 2005 for treatment of diabetes and/ or obesity using 'Bengal gram/chana'.

In all these case, after evidence was given by the TKDL unit of the Council of Scientific Research (India), these patent applications were withdrawn.


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