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Defending Ayurveda Against the Biopirates - India's Patent Database has a String of Successes
By Christopher J Sherliker

In last month's ewire, we published an article about the Indian Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) and its impact on the patenting of new yoga positions, and the protection of the asanas for the world's yogi and yogini.

It's not just yoga that the database protects, though: it's also the traditional Indian remedies that form the basis of Ayurvedic Medicine, the ancient regime central to Indian culture. Over one million traditional formulations are stored in the TKDL, along with many books and texts on the subject.

Generally a patent is not valid if it was known to the field before it was granted. The problem is that new patent applications may seem novel in those countries where Indian traditional medicine is not known. If a patent is granted in these cases, it stops others legally being able to use the knowledge commercially.

The TKDL provides a database so that these situations can be identified before the patent is granted, keeping the traditional knowledge free for the world to use. The aim of this database is to stop the commercialisation of traditional medicines through patenting them in foreign countries - this process is known as 'biopiracy'.

The last few weeks have seen a good deal of success for the TKDL across the globe - from Europe to the Far East.

In July, the Indian database shot down a patent application that attempted to protect a centuries-old weight-loss concoction made from ginger, cumin, onion and turmeric. The application was made by Claras ApS, a Danish company, for a Europe-wide patent – and without the TKDL it might have been successful, preventing the commercial use of the remedy across the whole continent.

The Director of TKDL, Dr V K Gupta, wrote: "In TKDL, there are several references where all four [ingredients] have been found to be used ... as slimming agent. Hence, there does not seem to be any novelty or inventive step involved".

Less than a month later, the Indian government were able to confirm their success in stopping another act of biopiracy - this time from Chinese pharmaceutical firm M/s Livzon.

This second success ensured the continuing public use of a traditional flu remedy of pudina (mint) and kalamegha. The Chinese company were attempting to register the remedy specifically for the treatment of H1N1-strain bird flu, but were foiled as it had already been used for centuries for all types of similar ailments.

The truth, therefore, is far from the media scare that yoga and other traditional knowledge was being locked away from the public – rather, they are being protected by the introduction of the TKDL, and this is being done effectively across the world.

Added: 1st September 2010

Christopher J Sherliker is a partner for Silverman Sherliker LLP who provide legal solutions across a spectrum of requirements.  Find out more about Silverman Sherliker LLP.

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