Thursday, December 08, 2005

India Strikes Back at Bad Bio Patents

The Indian government is creating an encyclopedia of traditional Indian medicine, hoping that it will be used as evidence to invalidate existing patents and prevent new ones. This is a good example of a disadvantaged country striking out against the Intellectual Monopoly Regime (we previously wrote about less effective attempts by Andean nations to do something similar).
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.

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 After a prolonged legal battle, the patent was revoked four years ago.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.
As it becomes increasingly clear to the developing world that IP-maximalism hurts them more than it helps, we should see more efforts like these. With any luck, they will prove to the rest of the world that the freedom to create is more important than artificial idea monopolies.


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