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Piracy shield for Ayurveda

New Delhi, Oct. 21: A database of 36,000 traditional medicine formulations gleaned and translated from ancient Ayurvedic texts has emerged as India’s newest tool to fight biopiracy and unfair international patents.

The government-funded database of formulations based on medicinal plants and herbs used in India for centuries will be made available to patents authorities in the US, Europe, Japan and elsewhere to flag India’s traditional knowledge, a scientist associated with the project said.

The database is intended to prevent international patents offices from honouring unfair claims such as the patent on turmeric as a wound healing agent issued by the US patents office to US-based scientists in the mid-1990s.

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had successfully got the US patent on turmeric revoked, but there are concerns that the world is still largely unaware of the rich reservoir of traditional plant-based medicinal formulations that have been known and used in India for centuries.

Medicinal formulations in Ayurvedic texts cannot be patented because a patent is valid only if an invention is not in the public domain.

A team of 30 Ayurveda experts, two patent examiners and scientists at the CSIR’s National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources in New Delhi have completed 36,000 entries in the traditional knowledge database.

The first phase of the database project involved documenting information on Ayurveda in a digitised format in English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese.

CSIR director-general Raghunath Mashelkar said researchers around the world will be able to use this library.

International patent examiners had until now no source to fall back on when considering the patentability of any claimed invention dealing with traditional knowledge because the literature related to traditional knowledge remained hidden in diverse sources.

Although India could get the patent on turmeric revoked, the legal battle to get a patent re-examined is expensive and can be time-consuming.

The knowledge database would provide an easily accessible and retrievable source of knowledge for patent examiners to verify claims. It could act as a bridge between traditional knowledge and modern science, a CSIR scientist said.

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