India readying database in five languages on its traditional knowledge

India readying database in five languages on its traditional knowledge

Mumbai: Stung by extensive patenting of traditional knowledge, India plans to try and secure areas it considers indigenous, from traditional medicines to yoga.

It is in the process of developing a database of such knowledge in five languages— English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese—to ensure that authorities dealing with intellectual property rights in foreign patent offices do not wrongfully grant patents to Indian products or processes.

“We hope that through these efforts we will be able to prevent misappropriation of traditional knowledge," says D.C. Katoch, deputy adviser (ayurveda), department of ayurveda, yoga, unani, siddha and homeopathy (Ayush) in the ministry of health and family welfare.

The department will offer free access to the database for other patent offices as long as that information is not provided to outside parties.

According to Katoch, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is interested in subscribing to the database library, which contains information on traditional medicinal systems such as ayurveda, siddha, unani as well as yoga. The Indian government’s efforts have been focused on the US because that is where most legal battles over patents have been fought. The US patent office didn’t immediately return an email query for comment.

In recent years, India has fought for the revocation of patents awarded by the US patent office on turmeric and basmati, and a neem patent granted in Europe. More recently, the Indian government has objected to the grant of yoga-related copyrights, patents on yoga accessories, and yoga trademarks.

A 2003 study by the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources claimed that some 7,000 patents worldwide are based on Indian indigenous knowledge. Intellectual property experts believe that the database can help document traditional knowledge in a structured manner. Prabuddha Ganguli, intellectual property consultant and lawyer, says it can help establish “prior art", or information relevant to claims of originality already in the public domain at the time of application for a patent. If an invention has been described in prior art, a patent on that invention is not valid.

By that logic, traditional knowledge—including instances such as turmeric and neem—cannot be patented because they have been used in India for centuries .

“The database could become an important source of prior art which is significant for the purposes of patenting inventions that are linked in some way to traditional knowledge," Ganguli says.

Others, however, believe that India’s efforts may lack merit. Elizabeth Kadetsky, a US-based yoga trainer and author of a book about Iyengar yoga, says to say yoga is a part of India’s traditional knowledge is unconscionable.

Even yoga in India has relied on the traditional knowledge of others, she says, citing German body-culture movements, Sufism as practised by Muslims and even the New Age movement from the Americans.

“Modern yoga as practised in India would not exist without the influences of such diverse sources," she says.