India Launches Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) to Protect Against Bio Piracy

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By Samir K. Brahmachari

The author is Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Govt. of India

New Delhi, Aug 12, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India) TKDL is a collaborative venture between Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Ministry of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, and Department of AYUSH, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and a maiden Indian effort to prevent misappropriation of traditional knowledge belonging to India at International Patent Offices. TKDL has overcome the language and format barriers by scientifically converting and structuring the traditional medical knowledge of Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga in 34 million A4 size pages of the ancient texts in languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Tamil into five international languages, namely, English, Japanese, French, German and Spanish, with the help of information technology tools and a novel classification system - Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification (TKRC). Today, India through TKDL is capable of protecting about 2.45 lakh medicinal formulations similar to those of neem and turmeric. TKDL access has been given to eight International Patent Offices which are European Patent Office (EPO), Indian Patent Office, German Patent Office (GPO), United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UKPTO), United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), IP Australia and Japan Patent Office (JPO) under Access (non-disclosure) agreement. Based on the third party observations submitted by the TKDL team so far 53 patent applications of the pharma companies of United States, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, China, etc. have been either set aside or withdrawn/cancelled or declared as dead patent applications based on the information present in the TKDL database at no cost and in few weeks time after filing of the third party observations whereas cancellations of patents have been known to take 4-13 years of legal battle. Considering the novelty, utility and its effectiveness in preventing the grant of wrong patents several countries and organizations have expressed their keenness in replicating the TKDL model for their own countries. World Intellectual Property Organization including the global community has recognized India’s leadership in the area of Intellectual Property Rights and Traditional Knowledge.

Genesis of TKDL Initiative

TKDL genesis dates back to the Indian effort on revocation of patent on wound healing properties of turmeric at the USPTO and anti-fungal properties of neem at EPO. Besides, in 2005, the TKDL expert group estimated that about 2000 wrong patents concerning Indian systems of medicine were being granted every year at international level, mainly due to the fact that India’s traditional medicinal knowledge existed in languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Tamil, etc. which was neither accessible nor comprehensible for patent examiners at the international patent offices.

The grant of these patents in United States and Europe were the cause of great national distress, since, every Indian felt that the knowledge that belonged to India was wrongfully taken away. Further, the patents would have conferred exclusive rights on the use of technology to the applicant of the patent in the country in which it was granted.

TKDL for Breaking Language and Access barriers on Traditional Knowledge

TKDL has overcome the language and format barriers by scientifically converting and structuring the available traditional medical knowledge in 34 million A4 size pages of the ancient texts into five international languages, namely, English, Japanese, French, German and Spanish, with the help of information technology tools and a novel classification system - Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification (TKRC). Today, India through TKDL is capable of protecting about 2.45 lakh medicinal formulations similar to those of neem and turmeric. On an average, it takes five to seven years for opposing a granted patent at international level which may cost Rs. 1-3 crore. One could only imagine the cost of protecting 2.45 lakh medicinal formulations in the absence of TKDL.

Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification- An innovative mechanism for structuring Traditional Knowledge

For classifying the Traditional Knowledge related subject matter under TKDL Project, a classification system i.e. Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification (TKRC) based on the structure of International Patent Classification (IPC) was created by India which consists of approx. 27,000 sub groups for Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga. The objective of creation of TKRC is not only to give a structured classification to Indian Traditional Medicine but also to use it as an abstracting and retrieval tool.

Impact of TKRC on International Patent Classification

TKDL has been responsible for the reform of International Patent Classification (IPC) by enhancing the IPC on Traditional Knowledge from one subgroup to 207 subgroups which enables effective search and examination process on the patent applications related to traditional knowledge subject matter. IPC reforms in the context of TK are fundamental reforms in the International Patent System which would have long term implications.

TKDL breaks distance, format and language barriers between TK holder(s) Knowledge and International Patent Examiners

TKDL is a proprietary and original database. TKDL is based on 148 books of Indian Systems of Medicine, which are available at a cost of Rs. 50,000.  These books are the prior art and can be sourced by any individual/organisation at national/international level.  TKDL acts as a bridge between these books and international patent examiners. It is the TKDL technology which has created a unique mechanism for a Sanskrit sloka to be read in languages like German, Japanese, English, Spanish and French by an examiner at EPO or any other International Patent Offices on his computer screen.

Access to TKDL under TKDL (non-disclosure) Access Agreement

Access of TKDL to International Patent Offices is available under TKDL Access (Non-disclosure) Agreement. Under the agreement, examiners of patent office can utilise TKDL for search and examination purposes only and can not reveal the contents of TKDL to any third party unless it is necessary for the purposes of citation. TKDL Access Agreement is unique in nature and has in-built safeguards on non-disclosure to protect India’s interest against any possible misuse.

India has signed TKDL Access Agreements with: (i) European Patent Office (Feb 2009) (ii) United State Patent & Trademark Office (Nov 2009) (with the sideline of the state visit of the Prime Minister to United States) (iii) Indian patent Office (July 2009), (iv) Canadian Intellectual Property Office (Sep 2010) (v) German Patent Office (Oct 2009) (vi) United Kingdom Patent Office (Feb 2010) (vii) Intellectual Property Australia (Jan 2011) and (viii) Japan Patent Office (April 2011).

TKDL search and retrieval capabilities for protection of Traditional knowledge

TKDL is one such database that has proven its efficacy and has succeeded in opposing hundreds of patent applications at various International patent offices through the route of filing of third party observations which exists in most of the National Patent Laws of the countries, wherein a submission may be filed by any member of the public on state of art / prior art at the patent office questioning the novelty and non-obviousness of a patent application after the publication of the patent application and before the grant of patent. Challenging the patents at International Patent Offices is a long drawn process and is expensive. For example, Mexico, only after more than 10 years of legal battle, was able to get the patent on Enola bean at USPTO cancelled in July 2009.  Similarly, cancellation on Monsonto Soybean patent happened in July 2007 at EPO after 13 years of legal battle. India is the only country in the world which has set up an institutional mechanism (TKDL) to protect its Traditional Knowledge and is able to prevent grant of wrong patents. TKDL enables cancellation / withdrawal of wrong patent applications concerning India’s Traditional Knowledge at zero cost and in time period of few weeks. In sharp contrast, in the absence of TKDL it took 10 years (1995-2005) to get Neem patent invalidated for antifungal properties at EPO

Impact of TKDL against bio-piracy

Significant impact has already been realised during the last two years.  Beginning July 2009, TKDL team has submitted 571 third party observations out of which so far 53 patent applications of the pharma companies of United States, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, China, etc. have been either set aside or withdrawn/cancelled or declared as dead patent applications based on the information present in the TKDL database.

TKDL: A model for other Countries

Considering the novelty, utility and its effectiveness in preventing the grant of wrong patents several countries and organizations such as South Africa, Mongolia, Thailand, Malaysia, ARIPO, Nigeria, Indonesia, etc. have expressed their keenness in replicating the TKDL model for their own countries. World Intellectual Property Organization including the global community has recognized India’s leadership in the area of Intellectual Property Rights and Traditional Knowledge. WIPO in collaboration with CSIR organized an international conference on utilizing TKDL established by India as a model for protection of traditional knowledge was held in New Delhi in March 2011 where 35 countries rich in traditional knowledge participated to understand the methodology for creation of TKDL and to apply such model for protection of TK in their own country.

- PIB Features

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