[Solved] How is the Government of India protecting traditional knowledge of medicine from patenting by pharmaceutical companies? (UPSC GS-3 Mains 2019)

Indian system of medication a healthcare system is based on indigenous Ayurveda and Siddha system coupled with practice of yoga. Although, Unani system did not develop in India but has evolved in India with passage of time. These systems of medication have been evolving in India for thousands of years.

  • Rapid bio-prospecting in modern era as led to unethical patenting of various drugs (Bio-Piracy) by large pharmaceutical companies.
  • Out of total 5000 patents based on traditional system of medication around
  • the world, 2000 patents were related to Indian traditional medication system. These included patenting Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri ) as a memory enhancer and Aloe Vera for its use as a mouth ulcer treatment.
  • Recent attempts by foreign pharmaceutical companies to patent them was foiled by government of India by fighting cases against them in different courts around the world and taking various domestic initiatives.

 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.
  • Different cases related to patents of traditional herbs and knowledge by pharmaceutical companies
  •   India foiled Colgate-Palmolive attempt to patent a mouthwash formula containing herb extracts, used in traditional medicines to cure oral diseases. The claim was contested by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (CSIR-TKDL) before the European Union Patent office.
  • India challenged patent granted two years ago to researchers in the United States on the use of powdered turmeric for wound healing. India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), argued that turmeric had been used for centuries in India for wound healing.
  • Similarly, India won a 10-year-long battle at the European Patent Office (EPO) against a patent granted on an anti-fungal product, derived from neem.

 Initiatives taken by government to prevent use of its traditional knowledge base from patenting

• Indian government under Centre for Scientific and Industrial research (CSIR) has set up an online digital library with the name of Traditional Digital Knowledge library to prevent biopiracy and unethical patents. It contains 80,000 formulations in Ayurveda, 1,000,000 in Unani and 12,000 in Siddha.

 • CSIR has fought many cases against bio-piracy and patenting in different countries of the world including USA, UK and Belgium.

 • CSIR has shared digital data on traditional medication in patent offices of different countries of the world to check and recheck while granting patents. Similarly, Yoga postures which were patented were also challenged.

 • Government has also planned to create people’s Register of Biodiversity which will contain that traditional knowledge which has passed from generations to generations through oral tradition.

 Steps taken by GoI to protect traditional knowledge from patent

 Traditional Knowledge Digital Library

 The government has established a digital library, which contains all the information about traditional medicine, the methods and techniques. This acts as a repository of all existing traditional methods and plays an important role in proving authenticity.

 This library has prevented thousands of patens from being filed internationally and it also gives access to various patent agencies of the world so that they can cross check the genuineness of the patent.

 Direct funding

 The government has stopped funding states and other agencies for carrying out research in traditional knowledge. It has instead made CSIR the sole responsible institution to carry out such research. The funding is directly provided to CSIR. This will prevent research from being leaked to private pharma companies.

 UNESCO intangible cultural heritage

 The government has been successful in obtaining UNESCO recognition to traditional medicinal knowledge such as Ayurveda, Yoga, Sowa Rigpa, Unani etc. This has allowed India to establish link with the country of origin and prevent patenting by multinational pharma companies.

 Strengthening IPR

 IPR laws in India have been upgraded to include all type of property rights. The new form will have provisions for protecting traditional knowledge of cultural groups. The main aim will be to protect economic interests of such groups from being exploited by third party.

 Conclusion:

 Nagoya Protocol which advocates for the access and benefit sharing of traditional knowledge under Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) has been ratified by India but this protocol opposes unethical patenting and promotes sharing of traditional knowledge. Already a world’s medical tourism hub, India must protect its data base of traditional knowledge in order to regain its lost ancient glory but at the same time let the global community to be benefitted from these knowledges and make the world disease free.

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