Indian authorities have been collating information about hundreds of thousands of plants, cures, foods and even yoga poses to create a vast digital database of traditional knowledge dating back to up to 5,000 years ago.
This is available in five international languages. The first part of that database - relating to Ayurveda has been completed. India is gathering these details to guard against possible theft by the West.
AdvertisementThe Times quoted Dr. Vinod Gupta, the chairman of India's National Institute for Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR), as saying: "Now we are negotiating an agreement with international patent offices [for access to this database]."
The database, totalling more than 30 million pages and known as the Traditional Knowledge Data Library, has come about for one very simple reason: to prevent Western pharmaceutical giants and others using this traditional Indian information to create a product for which they then obtain a patent.
The danger of such "misappropriation" is all too real. In 1994 an American company was granted a patent for a product based on the seeds of the need tree, an item that had for centuries been used in India as an insecticide.
It took the Indian authorities more than 10 years to have the patent overturned. Similar battles were fought over a product based on the spice turmeric - traditionally used to heal wounds - as well as a Texan company's attempt to trademark its strain of rice as "Texmati".
"In 2000 we did a study of the US patent database. We found there were 4,986 patents for products based on medicinal plants. Of those around 80 per cent were based on plants from India ... 50 percent of those patents should never have been given - there was no change to the traditional knowledge," Dr. Gupta said.
Under international guidelines, patents should not be given if it is shown there is "prior knowledge" or existing information about the product or item. To get around this challenge from the West, Dr Gupta called in more than 100 practitioners of Ayurveda, siddha and unani to help compile the information using computer software.
The database is being made available in Japanese, English, German, French and Spanish and the contents will be made available to patent officials once agreements on protecting the information and preventing it from being passed to corporations, are reached. Also included within the database are more than 1,500 positions or asanas of yoga. This is because in recent years several yoga teachers in the West have tried to copyright methods of teaching yoga that they are argue are unique but which have existed for centuries in India.
"We want to use this information for the global benefit but it should be done in a judicious way, not by stealing," said Dr Dinesh Katoch, an adviser on ayurveda with India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
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