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Saving Traditional Indian Knowledge

There is a bounty of age-old knowledge and information on various herbs as well as things like yoga. People and businessmen in the west keep usurping them as their own! It is our prerogative to save their copyright! This is an interesting post on this issue!

In 2004, US patent office granted a patent on a sequence of 26 asanas to an Indian-American yoga practitioner. You might wonder or express disbelief. How could anyone claim ownership over a 5,000-year-old tradition? But, unfortunately that is the state of affairs in the world today.

Actually this is not a single such case. For example, 80% of 5,000 patents on plant-based formulations granted by the US in 2000 were of Indian origin. This is only in the category of medicine and there is more to the list if we take into account of other cultural products such as food, architecture and other oral knowledge passed down from our ancestors.

Two prominent cases which India fought successfully in recent times are patents on neem and turmeric.

US government filed a patent application on neem tree at European patent office in 1990 and was granted patent in 1994. Neem, having its origin in India has been used for centuries as an insecticide, medicine for humans and animals and in cosmetics. How could such common sense medicine be patented? The issuing of patent was challenged by environmental activists calling it a biopiracy. Finally after 15 years, the case was won in favor of environmentalists and the patent was withheld.

In 1995, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India challenged a US patent on turmeric granted to two non resident Indians associated with University of Mississipi Medical Centre. Turmeric is a common medicine in Indian households and has been used for thousands of years for healing wounds and rashes. CSIR won the case and the US Patent Office cancelled the patent.

Indian traditional knowledge system is vast and largely under-explored by today’s Indians. However, it has been under scanner by western countries for long time. With the help of intellectual property rights and patent laws, West is making a great use of our traditional knowledge for their benefits. Imagine if turmeric was patented, your mother would be infringing US patent laws if she applied it to heal your wounds.

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Desh Kapoor

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