[Fwd: [pcplantdb] Another plant medicinal database in development - BBC NEWS | South Asia | India hits back in 'bio-piracy' battle]
- -------- Original Message --------
Subject: [pcplantdb] Another plant medicinal database in development -
BBC NEWS | South Asia | India hits back in 'bio-piracy' battle
Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 12:50:25 -0500
From: Lawrence F. London, Jr. <lfl@...>
Reply-To: pcplantdb <pcplantdb@...>
To: Permaculture Plant Database <pcplantdb@...>,
Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 December 2005, 13:22 GMT
India hits back in 'bio-piracy' battle
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi
Yoga exercises have been patented in the west
In a quiet government office in the Indian capital, Delhi, some 100
doctors are hunched over computers poring over
ancient medical texts and keying in information.
These doctors are practitioners of ayurveda, unani and siddha, ancient
Indian medical systems that date back thousands
One of them is Jaya Saklani Kala, a young ayurveda doctor, who is wading
through a dog-eared 500-year-old text book for
information on a medicine derived from the mango fruit.
"Soon the world will know the medicine, and the fact that it originated
from India," she says.
With help from software engineers and patent examiners, Ms Kala and her
colleagues are putting together a
30-million-page electronic encyclopaedia of India's traditional medical
knowledge, the first of its kind in the world.
The ambitious $2m project, christened Traditional Knowledge Digital
Library, will roll out an encyclopaedia of the
country's traditional medicine in five languages - English, French,
German, Japanese and Spanish - in an effort to stop
people from claiming them as their own and patenting them.
Tulsi (Holy basil)
The tulsi (holy basil) plant has medicinal qualities
The electronic encyclopaedia, which will be made available next year,
will contain information on the traditional
medicines, including exhaustive references, photographs of the plants
and scans from the original texts.
Indian scientists say the country has been a victim of what they
describe as "bio-piracy" for a long time.
"When we put out this encyclopaedia in the public domain, no one will be
able to claim that these medicines or therapies
are their inventions. Till now, we have not done the needful to protect
our traditional wealth," says Ajay Dua, a senior
bureaucrat in the federal commerce ministry.
Putting together the encyclopaedia is a daunting task.
For one, ayurvedic texts are in Sanskrit and Hindi, unani texts are in
Arabic and Persian and siddha material is in
Tamil language. Material from these texts is being translated into five
international languages, using sophisticated
The sheer wealth of material that has to be read through for information
is enormous - there are some 54 authoritative
'text books' on ayurveda alone, some thousands of years old.
People outside India are not aware of our immense traditional knowledge
VK Gupta, project director
Then there are nearly 150,000 recorded ayurvedic, unani and siddha
medicines; and some 1,500 asanas (physical exercises
and postures) in yoga, which originated in India more than 5,000 years ago.
Under normal circumstances, a patent application should always be
rejected if there is prior existing knowledge about
But in most of the developed nations like United States, "prior existing
knowledge" is only recognised if it is
published in a journal or is available on a database - not if it has
been passed down through generations of oral and
The irony here is that India has suffered even though its traditional
knowledge, as in China, has been documented
But information about traditional medicine has never been culled from
their texts, translated and put out in the public
No wonder then that India has been embroiled in some high-profile patent
litigation in the past decade - the government
spent some $6m alone in fighting legal battles against the patenting of
turmeric and neem-based medicines.
In 1995, the US Patent Office granted a patent on the wound-healing
properties of turmeric.
Indian scientists protested and fought a two-year-long legal battle to
get the patent revoked.
India got a patent on turmeric, used in curries, revoked
Last year, India won a 10-year-long battle at the European Patent Office
against a patent granted on an anti-fungal
product, derived from neem, by successfully arguing that the medicinal
neem tree is part of traditional Indian knowledge.
In 1998 the US Patent Office granted patent to a local company for new
strains of rice similar to basmati, which has
been grown for centuries in the Himalayan foothills of north-west India
and Pakistan and has become popular
internationally. After a prolonged legal battle, the patent was revoked
four years ago.
And, in the US, an expatriate Indian yoga teacher has claimed copyright
on a sequence of 36 yoga asanas, or postures.
Dr Vinod Kumar Gupta, who is leading the traditional wealth
encyclopaedia project and heads India's National Institute
of Science Communication and Information Resources (Niscair), reckons
that of the nearly 5,000 patents given out by the
US Patent Office on various medical plants by the year 2000, some 80%
were plants of Indian origin.
Practitioners of traditional medicines say their importance cannot be
denied - according to the WHO, 70% of the people
living in India use traditional medicine for primary health care.
Also, some 42% of the people living in the US and 70% of the people
living in Canada have used traditional medicines at
least once for treatment.
By one estimate, a quarter of the new drugs produced in the US are
plant-based, giving the sometimes much-criticised
practitioners of alternative traditional medicine something to cheer about.
The mammoth Indian encyclopaedia may finally give alternative medicine
the shot in the arm it sorely needs.
Also see Traditional Ecological Knowledge Prior Art Database (T.E.K.*
a project with similar aims which has a copy of the plants for a future
Plants for a Future: 7000 useful plants
Post: 1 Lerryn View, Lerryn, Lostwithiel, Cornwall, PL22 0QJ
Tel: 01208 872 963
PFAF electronic mailing list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pfaf