The plan was
announced at a two-day workshop held in Delhi, India, recently
by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
(SAARC). Participants at the workshop have begun drawing up a
technical framework for classifying the region's traditional
knowledge and linking it to the international patent
The aim is to create a composite
digital library comprising individual Traditional Knowledge
Digital Libraries (TKDL) from each country in South Asia.
Accessible using the internet, the library will contain
information on traditional medicine, foodstuffs, architecture
and culture. SAARC will fund the infrastructure required, and
individual nations will fund the costs of training and work.
The meeting's delegates said South
Asian nations could use the digital library to fight
contentious patent claims by proving the prior existence of
knowledge, as well as promoting research on novel drugs,
enhancing the region's share of the global herbal medicine
market and helping set the international agenda on
intellectual property rights.
India's own TKDL is the SAARC
The planned initiative follows the
success of India's own TKDL, which will be used as a model by
other South Asian nations. India created its library after
fighting a successful but costly legal battle in 1999 to
revoke a US patent for the use of turmeric to heal wounds - a
property well known in India for generations.
The Indian library contains
information on 36,000 formulations used in Ayurveda - India's
5,000-year-old system of traditional medicine. The information
- presented in English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese -
was created in a format accessible by international patent
offices to prevent the granting of inappropriate patents. The
database set international standards for registries of
traditional knowledge, which were adopted by the
intergovernmental committee of the World Intellectual Property
Organization (WIPO) in 2003.
In 2001, India developed a system
for classifying resources used in traditional knowledge that
is similar to that used by the International Patent
Classification (IPC). The IPC has agreed to include the Indian
system in its own classification, which will be expanded to
include about 200 sub-groups of drugs derived from Indian
medicinal plants. According to delegates at the Delhi meeting,
this is likely to significantly aid patent offices searching
the databases to ensure that proposed patents are truly novel
and have not been reported before.
Documenting traditional knowledge
has become important as most of it is in the public domain and
is easy to misappropriate, says Raghunath Mashelkar, Director
General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research
(CSIR). India's National Institute of Science Communication
and Information Resources (NISCAIR) found that in 2000, almost
80 per cent of the 4,896 references to individual plant-based
medicinal patents in the US Patents Office related to seven
medicinal plants of Indian origin.
Indian journals ignored by patent
In 2003, there were almost 15,000
patents on such medicines in the US, European and UK patent
offices' registries. However, according to the institute's
Director Virender Kumar Gupta, none of the 131 academic
journals used by patent examiners when deciding whether to
grant a patent is from developing countries such as Brazil,
China or India.
South Asia possesses significant
traditional knowledge that affects biotechnology, agriculture,
pharmaceuticals and health care. More than 80 per cent of its
1.4 billion population have no access to modern health care
services and medicine, and rely on traditional medicine, the
Delhi meeting heard.
The region shares a common heritage
in traditional medicine - Bangladesh, India and Pakistan share
the Unani system of medicine, whereas Ayurveda is used in
India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. India's NISCAIR
prepared and circulated a practical guide for classification
of traditional knowledge to other South Asian countries.
The Indian digital library of
traditional knowledge has also attracted attention from other
regions. Representatives from South Africa, the Commonwealth
West African Education Delegation, the African Regional
Industrial Property Organization and International Property
Office in Singapore have discussed with India the possibility
of creating similar databases.
to prevent misappropriation of traditional knowledge
The participants at the meeting,
including staff of the SAARC Documentation Centre in Delhi,
NISCAIR, and WIPO also discussed creating new laws to prevent
misappropriation of traditional knowledge. Mikhail Makarov,
Deputy Director at WIPO's technology retrieval systems service
told SciDev.Net that WIPO is working towards a new legal
instrument to protect traditional knowledge, using a
combination of existing intellectual property laws and sui
generis laws unique to individual circumstances of the
countries developing them.
Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Panama,
Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, Thailand and the United
States are among those that have adopted sui generis laws that
protect some aspects of traditional knowledge. Regional
organisations in the South Pacific and Africa are trying to
define specific rights relating to traditional knowledge and
strategies to protect them, said Shakeel Bhatti from WIPO's
global intellectual property issues division.
Reprinted from SciDev.Net with
permission. Visit SciDev here