How is the government of India protecting traditional knowledge of medicine from patenting by pharmaceutical companies? (15 Marks)

Mentor’s comment

  • It’s a straightforward question.
  • In the intro, state what you understand by traditional knowledge of medicine.
  • In the main body of the answer, describe the steps taken by the government in this direction like Traditional Knowledge Digital Library-India and the formation of the Ministry of Ayush and their role in the protection of traditional knowledge.
  • Conclude by stressing the importance of protecting traditional medical knowledge.

Answer: 

Traditional knowledge refers to the perennial practices that have been indigenously developed, evolved, preserved and utilized overages by local communities and have may have high commercial value in particular medicinal effects which might be an effective cure for an ailment. Although the discovery of medicinal products by bioprospecting is advantageous in several ways, the methods and applications adopted by pharmaceutical firms have been criticized at several forums. In this regard, it a good reason for a country to go for protecting traditional knowledge of medicine from patenting by pharmaceutical companies just to gain a monopoly.

Consequences of Bioprospecting:

  • Pharmaceutical firms and biotechnology companies are exploiting biological riches and indigenous knowledge with the sole aim of developing patented products without recognition given to indigenous communities who selected, maintained and improved traditional plant varieties for medicine. 
  • Pharmaceutical firms are often accused of cheating local people by denying them access to knowledge, and financial benefits. 
  • In several cases, there is no regulation in place to ensure that the source countries of these plants will be adequately compensated.
  • Imbalance in the ecosystem due to excessive exploitation of material resources is always a possibility. For example, tropical rainforest regions of the world, which constitute more than 50% Of medicinal plants, are disappearing. This is mainly due to a multitude of commercial interests including bioprospecting.

Steps were taken by Government of India:

  • Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) is a pioneering Indian initiative to prevent exploitation and to protect Indian traditional knowledge from wrongful patents mainly at International Patent Offices.
  • Indian Patent Office has also brought out Guidelines for processing Patent Applications relating to Traditional Knowledge and Biological Material to help the Patent examiner to analyze what constitutes novelty and inventive step in Traditional Knowledge (TK) related invention.
  • The Indian government has effectively licensed 200,000 local treatments as “public property” free for anyone to use but no one to sell as a “brand”.
  • India has been trying to revive WTO talks to strengthen global norms to protect traditional knowledge from reckless patenting by corporate.
  • Awareness creation among tribals about the provision of patenting traditional knowledge. Help is being provided to document their claims so as to oppose any such bioprospecting in the future.

Way Forward:

  • The discoveries through bioprospecting should be equitably shared between the pharmaceutical firms and local communities and indigenous people
  • The terms and conditions of bioprospecting agreements under which indigenous people might benefit financially should be clear and transparent and free from ambiguity. 
  • Training and expertise should be offered by multinational pharmaceutical companies to the natives providing raw material for drugs. Providing jobs, training, and expertise to the source countries would benefit local people with opportunities to progress. 
  • Other benefits can be grants in terms of equipment and education and technology transfer. The intellectual integrity Of indigenous people and other rural people must be confirmed within the Biodiversity Convention. 
  • No patenting of living products and processes should be allowed in the future.

Traditional Knowledge, definitely, is a cultural heritage and backbone for any country but at the same time is a valuable resource with a lot of potentials that need to be exploited to bring economic growth and development in a country. It is also obvious that there is a need to maintain a balance between the profits and benefits of such knowledge in the commercial market and the protection of the rights of the native communities so that the socio-economic harmony of a nation is left undisturbed.

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