[Ip-health] India moves to protect traditional medicines from foreign patents
Mon Feb 23 12:21:01 2009
[ Picked text/plain from multipart/alternative ]
In the first step by a developing country to stop multinational companies
patenting traditional remedies from local plants and animals, the 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".
The move comes after scientists in Delhi began to notice an alarming new
trend =96 the "bio-prospecting" of natural remedies by companies abroad. Af=
trawling through the records of the global trademark offices, officials
found 5,000 patents had been issued =97 at a cost of at least $150m (=A3104=
for "medical plants and traditional systems".
"More than 2,000 of these belong to the Indian systems of medicine =85 We
began to ask why multinational companies were spending millions of dollars
to patent treatments that so many lobbies in Europe deny work at all," said
Vinod Kumar Gupta, who heads the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library =96
which lists in encyclopaedic detail the 200,000 treatments.
The database, which took 200 researchers eight years to compile by
meticulously translating ancient Indian texts, will now be used by the
European Patent Office to check against "bio-prospectors".
Dr Gupta points out that in Brussels alone there had been 285 patents for
medicinal plants whose uses had long been known in the three principal
Indian systems: ayurveda, India <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/india>'s
traditional medical treatment; unani, a system believed to have come to
India via ancient Greece; and siddha, one of India's oldest health therapie=
from the south.
Researchers found that in Europe one company had patented an Indian creepin=
plant known as Brahmi =96 in Latin called Bacopa Monnieri =96 for a memory
enhancer. Another patent was awarded for aloe vera for its use as a mouth
ulcer treatment. "We have shown the authorities that ayurveda, unani and
siddha medicinal uses were known in India. We would like the patents
therefore lifted," said Dr Gupta.
In the past India has had to go to court =97 a lengthy and costly process =
get patents revoked. Officials say that to lift patents from medicines
created from turmeric and neem, an Indian tree, it spent more than $5m. In
the case of the neem patent, the legal battle took almost 10 years. "We won
because we proved these were part of traditional Indian knowledge. There wa=
no innovation and therefore no patent should be granted," said Dr Gupta.
Yoga, too, is considered a traditional medicine and one that is already a
billion-dollar industry in the US. Dr Gupta says the Indian government has
already asked the US to register yoga as a "well-known" mark and raised
concerns over the 130 yoga-related patents issued.
"We want no one to appropriate the yoga brand for themselves. There are
1,500 asanas [yogic poses] and exercises given in our ancient texts. We are
transcribing these so they too cannot be appropriated by anyone. We have ha=
instances where people have patented a yoga technique by describing a
certain temperature. This is simply wrong."
India is also unusual in that it has seven national medical systems =97 of
which modern medicine is but one. Almost four-fifths of India's billion
people use traditional medicine and there are 430,000 ayurvedic medical
practitioners registered by the government in the country. The department
overseeing the traditional medical industry, known as Ayush, has a budget o=
10 billion rupees ($260m).
India's battle to protect its traditional treatments is rooted in the belie=
that the developing world's rich biodiversity is a potential treasure trove
of starting material for new drugs and crops. Dr Gupta points out that it
costs the west $15bn and 15 years to produce a "blockbuster drug". A patent
lasts for 20 years, so a pharmaceutical company has just five years to
recover its costs =97 which makes conventional treatments expensive.
"If you can take a natural remedy and isolate the active ingredient then yo=
just need drug trials and the marketing. Traditional medicine could herald =
new age of cheap drugs."
Dr Gupta says this is beginning to happen. Indian researchers have
collaborated with a US firm to make a drug to combat psoriasis =97 which is
being tested in clinical trials this year. "If it works it will see
treatment brought down to $50. This a lot less than the $10,000 the current