Ancient medicines list now open to patent examiners to stop 'biopiracy'

Out-Law News | 17 Feb 2009 | 9:08 am | 1 min. read

A database of ancient Indian medical practice will be linked to systems run by the European Patent Office to prevent patents being awarded to cover pre-existing claims.

India maintains a collection of medical claims and practices in its Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a database containing texts and methods dating back 500 years. It has connected that Library to the EPO's systems to prevent European patents being awarded for methods or techniques already invented in India.

"The main aim of the TKDL is to prevent unjustified patenting – and thereby commercial exploitation – of traditional knowledge that is already being used in the public domain in India," said a statement from the EPO. "Such public knowledge constitutes 'prior art', according to EPO regulations. As such, it cannot be patented unless the applicants can demonstrate significant inventive or new improvements."

Last year the Indian government fought a patent application for the use of the Neem tree in an anti-fungal product. It won its appeal against the patent. Patent applications based on traditional medicines or remedies are known as 'biopiracy'.

India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is behind the Library, which was itself only launched last week. The CSIR's Dr V P Gupta told the Times of India that the country would lose control of techniques or remedies at an alarming rate without the Library. He said that 2,000 patents a year would be filed without the Library's protection.

"For the first time in history, the TKDL makes traditional Indian medical texts available in English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish," said the EPO statement. "It is also the first time that these texts – many of them old manuscripts written in Hindi, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Urdu and other languages – can be accessed in a digital, searchable format."

"EPO examiners have been able to access the TKDL since 2 February 2009. Various other countries have also granted the EPO access to traditional knowledge databases. In 2008, the Chinese Patent Office (SIPO) opened its 32 000-entry database on traditional Chinese medicine to the EPO," it said.