What will happen if you get to know that the yellow turmeric powder that you put in your dal everyday has been patented and that only a certain individual sitting in a far-off country can now produce it and sell it you at a higher price?
What will you do if you get to know that the bitter neem juice that your grandmother forced you to drink will now be produced and sold by a company who has the exclusive right to do so?
Sounds absurd, right? Unfortunately, such attempts have already been made; but fortunately, India has been able to thwart these attempts and successfully protect her traditional knowledge.
TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE, WHAT’S THAT?
Traditional knowledge is the knowledge system possessed by various communities across the globe. Such knowledge has been accumulated over the years and has been used and passed down through several generations. Traditional knowledge is usually with respect to the natural surroundings of the community and includes agricultural knowledge such as manner of cultivation, environmental knowledge and knowledge of natural medicines.
WHY DO WE NEED TO PROTECT IT?
The answer to this can be found in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) wherein the Convention reaffirmed the sovereign rights of States to protect their biological resources. The primary objective of the Convention was the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of the same and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of such biological resources. Further Article 8(j) recognises the efforts of local and indigenous communities in preserving this biological diversity through traditional knowledge and holds that they too are entitled to share the benefits obtained out of such use. Therefore, it forms an obligation on all State Parties to protect the traditional knowledge within their frontiers.
HOW IS TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE IN INDIA PROTECTED?
India is a party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity by virtue of which it enacted the Biological Diversity Act 2002. The Act aims at the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits that arise from the use of biological resources. The Act provides for the establishment of a National Biodiversity Authority in order to protect the invaluable treasure of Indian biodiversity.
In addition to this, the Government of India has also established the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library for the protection of India Traditional Knowledge.
WHAT IS THE TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE DIGITAL LIBRARY?
The struggle that India had to undergo to nullify the patent granted to turmeric brought to the forefront the dismal state of documentation of Indian traditional knowledge. Had there been prior proper documentation, turmeric would not have been granted a patent in the first place. However, better late than never, the Indian government realized the necessity for the documentation of the valuable traditional knowledge of the country and in pursuance of this created the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library- an integrated global bio piracy watch system that allows for the monitoring of patent applications that seek to patent Indian medical systems. It serves as a prior art registry and as a defensive mechanism against bio piracy.
The TKDL is a joint effort of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research and the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH). It enables effective detection of attempts to misappropriate this knowledge by third parties filing applications with patent offices around the world.
At present, while access to the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is available to nine International Patent Offices- European Patent Office, United States Patent & Trademark Office, Japan Patent Office, United Kingdom Patent Office, Canadian Intellectual Property Office, German Patent Office, Intellectual Property Australia, Indian Patent Office and Chile Patent Office- by way of the TKDL Access (Non-Disclosure) Agreement, talks are underway with Russia and Malaysia.
However, there has been a drawback to the TKDL. After the setting up of the TKDL, India has challenged several claims of patent across the world. However, concerns have arisen as to whether the money spent by India to sustain the TKDL is worthwhile. Several other countries such as South Korea have a system similar to that of the TKDL, yet spend a fraction of the amount spent by India.
Further, with the TKDL available only to defend India’s traditional knowledge and not being available for further research, much is left to be desired.
Nonetheless, the establishment of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library has indeed demonstrated the need to protect a nation’s traditional knowledge and the advantages of proactive action. It has also paved the way for the efforts of other countries to protect their traditional knowledge.