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[Fwd: [pcplantdb] Another plant medicinal database in development - BBC NEWS | South Asia | India hits back in 'bio-piracy' battle]

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    ... Subject: [pcplantdb] Another plant medicinal database in development - BBC NEWS | South Asia | India hits back in bio-piracy battle Date: Wed, 07 Dec
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2005
      -------- 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@...>,
      permaculture <permaculture@...>


      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
      of years.

      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
      software coding.

      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
      the product.

      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
      folk traditions.

      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.

      Indian curry
      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
      Web: http://www.pfaf.org/
      Post: 1 Lerryn View, Lerryn, Lostwithiel, Cornwall, PL22 0QJ
      Tel: 01208 872 963
      Email: webweaver@...
      PFAF electronic mailing list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pfaf
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