Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Strategic Value of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library

In view of the sustained attempts by "bio-pirates" seeking to patent formulations of products already in the public domain, being based on traditional knowledge recorded in ancient texts, the exercise of creating and maintaining the TKDL is a salutary exercise in maintaining and making accessible "prior art" written and recorded in texts and languages not universally understood or accessible.  Access to such a database helps patent examiners filter out the meritorious claims from the non-meritorious, on grounds of existence of prior art.

India woke up to the importance of recording such knowledge embedded in ancient texts only when various agencies came together to selflessly fight against the patent granted to "Basmati-like" grains and lines, that would have effectively blocked export of basmati rice to US and other markets as being violative of a patent.

The success in the fights against patents for neem-based fungicides and for treatment of wounds using haldi (turmeric) showed the importance of such a database as a defensive bulwark against bio-piracy.

The benefits of such a database were seen recently when, in a matter of 3 weeks, the attempt by a Spanish company to patent in the EPO a cure for leucoderma based on melon seeds extract was rejected, citing prior art from the TKDL.

Even so, bio-piracy continues unabated. For example, L'Oreal has patented the use of kava, a cash crop grown in island countries like Fiji and Vanuatu and known to the natives for hundreds of years (there are over 100 varieties of kava growing there) for products that stimulate hair growth and reduce hair fall.

A similar concept, that of a "defensive patent entity" has been developed on terms analogous to the TKDL to provide "safe passage" for users of key patents and as a defense against "patent trolls". These entities basically license their patents very cheaply to ensure that benefit of the patents spreads widely. For example, India's CFTRI has patented several taditional snack foods including Traditional Indian Tamarind Toffee, which is most commonly recognised by us as the sweet served on Jet Airways flights.  The idea is to block any attempt at patenting that product, and thereby denying many cottage enterprises the right to make a living, generate employment and profit from selling their wares using traditional knowledge.

No comments:

Post a Comment