Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Biomed analysis: keep traditional knowledge open but safe

By Priya Shetty - posted Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Traditional biological knowledge tends to be uncomfortably juxtaposed between two worlds - the ancient, where knowledge was freely shared by all, and the modern, where it is jealously protected through patents.

But the past few months have seen milestones in bridging this divide.

Last month, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) partially rejected Pfizer's patent on its impotence drug, Viagra, because of similarities with a Chinese herb known as horny goat weed.


And in January, the European Patent Office (EPO) revoked a patent for a traditional remedy extracted from the roots of endemic South African plants.

Both actions are examples of a growing trend to incorporate traditional knowledge into modern patent applications. They follow agreements - signed last year by the USPTO and the EPO - with India to consult its Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) before granting patents.

Knowledge brought to book

India's TKDL is a 24 million-page, multilingual database on traditional remedies and medicinal plants.

According to Samir Brahmachari, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Delhi, it was set up partly in response to two expensive and protracted legal battles in the 1990s over widely used traditional medicines.

In 1995, the USPTO granted a patent to the University of Mississippi Medical Center for the use of turmeric powder as a wound-healing agent. That this was not novel knowledge would have been obvious to anyone travelling through India, where turmeric-doused bandages are commonly used. But it took the Indian government two years to overturn the patent.

Another 1995 patent stood for longer still. It was not until 2000 that a patent for a neem-based fungicide - granted by the EPO to the US Department of Agriculture and the multinational W. R. Grace - was revoked.


Raghunath Mashelkar, who led the fight against the EPO patent as Brahmachari's predecessor, was a key player in setting up the TKDL and explains its significance.

"For the first time, traditional knowledge started to be codified in a language and in systems that the patent offices could use," he says.

China has a similar database on traditional Chinese medicines that is in use by the EPO.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in on February 24, 2010.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Priya Shetty specialises in developing world issues including health, climate change and human rights. She has worked as a news editor at New Scientist, assistant editor at The Lancet, and commissioning editor at SciDev.Net.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy