Traditional Knowledge Digital Library to fight piracy

Mysore, Mar.31 (JP) - At the recently held International Bio-diversity Conference organised by JSS Mahavidyapeetha and Organisation for Industrial Spiritual & Cultural Advancement - International (OISCA), Japan, at SJCE College in city recently, Kerala Minister for Environment and Forests, Binoy Visvam, who was one of the special invitees, said biopiracy was on the increase in India and the country should file for patents over many uses of plant and animal species used in traditional medicine.

The Kerala Minister was referring to attempts by western pharmaceutical and nutraceutical firms to patent drugs about which they had come to know from the traditional medicine practioners of India. Turmeric, Ginger, Basmati rice, Adhathoda Vassa, Arogya paccha and Neem have all been in news for the wrong reasons. Patents had been applied in the US and Europe for the 'discovery' of their uses.

This 'Knowledge theft' has extended to yoga asanas. United States alone has 130 yoga-related patents, 150 copyrights and 2,300 trademarks pertaining to yoga accessories.

It is discovered that more than 50 per cent of westerners who come Mysore to learn yoga, do so with the intention of setting themselves up as teachers and perhaps with a bit of twisting and turning of asanas apply for patents for their discoveries. It is also discovered that a well-known yoga teacher in the US, who had spent years in Mysore learning to be a teacher of Advanced Yoga, has claimed copyright on 36 'Dynamic' yogic postures.

Biopiracy is theft or usurpation of genetic materials, especially plants and other biological materials by patent process. Traditional knowledge is being exploited for bio-prospecting as it is assumed that since it is in public domain, communities have given up all claims over it.

For instance, turmeric is used as medicine for minor ailments. A US patent on turmeric was awarded to University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1995, specifically for "use of turmeric in wound healing." This patent also granted them the exclusive right to sell and distribute turmeric. Two years later, a complaint was filed by Dr. Mashlekar of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which challenged the novelty of the University's "discovery," and in 1997, the patent was revoked.

This is not all. The neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is grown not only for its cooling shade but also for its medicinal values. In the late '80s, the US Department of Agriculture received a patent on a technique to extract an anti-fungal agent from neem. This knowledge was obviously sourced from farmers in India.

In Mysore too there has been a piracy of a different kind. A freelance journalist from the US working on the use of reptiles in traditional medicine used the services of Sanskrit scholars of the University and the Sanskrit College to translate ancient ma-nuscripts like Charaka Samhita. This writer was also interested in one particular sculpture, that of Lord Ganesha holding a lizard in hand, which he had seen in one of the old temples. This man found that it was not the common lizard but a genus that belonged to the family of Monitor lizards. The oil obtained by boiling this reptile is used by Kuruba people to prevent various types of arthritic problems. The man is supposed to have 'borrowed' several rare books and manuscripts from the University library, Oriental Research Institute and the now defunct Aramane Publications and that was the last seen of him.

Thefts of this kind led to establishment of the country's first Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), an electronic encyclopedia of India's traditional medicine which will be available to patent offices worldwide.

This task of documenting traditional knowledge both oral and written included all possible uses of plants, roots and shrubs in traditional and classic medicine practices like Ayurveda and Siddha and folk medicine of the 30,000-odd tribal societies along with 600 yogic postures.

TKDL is a collaborative project of the CSIR and the Department of AYUSH taken up in 2001. Under the direction of Vinod Kumar Gupta, the head of NISCAIR, this vast database includes 54 authoritative textbooks on ayurvedic medicine; 150,000 ayurvedic, unani and siddha medicines and 1,500 physical exercises and postures in yoga.

Courtesy : Star Of Mysore