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India logs over 2 lakh traditional medical formulations

11 February 2009

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In what is the world's first Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), India has completed documenting over two lakh medical formulations of Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani to save them from piracy.

After eight years of toil, over 200 scientists and researchers from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Union health ministry's department of Ayush have scientifically converted information of traditional Indian medicine from Hindi, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Tamil to five international languages - English, Japanese, French, German and Spanish.

The TKDL, 30 million pages of information, has been created to prevent those living abroad from claiming patent for existing formulations.

Indian medicinal plants.jpg
Image credits: Google Images / Indian medicinal plants

India, till now, has lost over 15,000 patents of medicinal plants to the West. According to Dr V P Gupta from CSIR who created TKDL, India would lose 2,000 new patents every year without such a digital library.

In the past, patents have been granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) on the use of over 285 Indian medicinal plants such as papaya, Indian long pepper, kali tulsi, pudina, ginger, aloe, isabgol, aaonla, jira, soybean, tomato, almond, walnut and methi.

This is why India has now also signed a landmark agreement with the EPO. Under the three-year agreement, which came into effect on February 3, TKDL's database would be available to the patent examiners at EPO (34 member states) "for establishing prior art", in case of patent applications based on Indian systems of medicine (ISM).

However, TKDL's information will be restricted only for patent search and examination purposes. EPO will not be able to disclose the information to a third party.

While India will help EPO with search assistance, EPO will, once every three months, inform India about what information was used as citation from the TKDA.

According to CSIR DG Prof Samir Brahmchari, on an average, it takes five to seven years to oppose a granted patent internationally and costs Rs 1-3 crore. "Therefore, the cost of protecting all ISM formulations in the absence of TKDL would be staggering and completely unaffordable," Brahmchari said.

Ayush secretary S Jalaja added, "People will now think twice before even applying for such dubious patents. Till now, we have documented 81,000 Ayurveda, 1.4 lakh Unani and 12,000 Siddha formulations."

TKDL has become a model for other countries wanting to defend their traditional knowledge from misappropriation. South Africa, African Regional Property Organisation, Mongolia, Nigeria, Malaysia and Thailand have asked India to help them replicate TKDL.

Health secretary Naresh Dayal said, "TKDL will ensure Indian traditional medical knowledge remains safe, used by Indian companies for the benefit of Indians."

The decision to create TKDL was taken in 2001 in the aftermath of wrong patents granted by US Patent and Trade Mark Office (USPTO) on wound healing properties of turmeric (1995) and on anti-fungal properties of neem granted by European Patent Office (EPO), even though the plants were being used for centuries under ISM for such benefits.

"If TKDL existed earlier, then international disputes regarding patenting of neem, turmeric and basmati would not have occurred," CSIR's Dr Gupta said.

He added that in a study conducted in 2000, 4,896 patents were granted by US PTO on medicinal plants, 80% on which were on plants of Indian origin. "In a study of 760 such patents, we found 350 patents should have never been granted. Over 200-500 such patents are granted every year, mainly due to the lack of access to documented knowledge in India," Dr Gupta said.

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