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

Mentors Comments:
  • Give 1-2 examples of how India’s traditional knowledge has been misused by foreign companies.
  • Mention and discuss the terms, bioprospecting, and biopiracy.
  • Discuss how India tries to protect it’s traditional knowledge.

Answer:

Bioprospecting is the search for plant and animal species from which medicinal drugs and other commercially valuable compounds can be obtained. Recently it has been observed that international pharma companies have been applying and obtaining patents for medicinal use of prevalent Indian medicinal plants. After trawling through the records of the global trademark offices, officials found 2,000 patents had been issued — at a cost of millions for “medical plants and traditional systems” that are prevalent in India.

Indian Traditional Knowledge of Medicine:

  • India has a rich heritage of traditional medicine systems such as Yoga, Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, Naturopathy and Homeopathy. 
  • However, much of India’s traditional medicinal knowledge only existed in Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic, Urdu and Tamil. These languages were neither accessible to nor understood by patent examiners working in the major patent offices to which the applications have been submitted.

How India is protecting traditional knowledge of medicine:

 

  • AYUSH has been made a separate Ministry.

 

  • In 2001 India initiated formation of Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) a database in which traditional medicinal information is digitized with accessibility in five major international languages to patent offices across the globe so that examiner may conduct a patent search to check the novelty of the invention.
  • TKDL has converted and structured ancient texts into 34 million A4-sized pages and translated them into English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish the major international languages. 
  • 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 future.
  • India has signed and ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (ABS).

India is the only country in the world to have set up an institutional mechanism – the TKDL – to protect its Traditional Knowledge. The TKDL enables prompt and almost cost-free cancellation or withdrawal of patent applications relating to India’s Traditional Knowledge.

Traditional knowledge of medicinal plant can solve many of the problems of healthcare in India by providing cheap and sustainable remedy. The Government should try to marketise this knowledge, before MNC pharma companies misuse them.

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