Report of the Inter-Regional Workshop on Intellectual Property Rights in the Context of Traditional Medicine (Bangkok, Thailand, 6-8 December 2000)
(2001; 52 pages) View the PDF document
Table of Contents
View the documentAcknowledgements
Open this folder and view contents1. Introduction
Close this folder2. The role of intellectual property rights in the context of traditional medicine
View the document2.1. Importance of traditional medicine
View the document2.2. Intellectual property rights for traditional knowledge
View the document2.3. Innovations based on traditional medicine knowledge
View the document2.4. Individuals and institutions involved in discovery and innovation based on the knowledge of traditional medicine
View the document2.5. Challenges to close the gap between existing patent laws and the need to protect traditional knowledge and biodiversity
View the document2.6. Briefing for the Workshop
View the document3. Globalization, the TRIPS Agreement and access to essential drugs
View the document4. Intellectual property rights
View the document5. Systems and national experience for protecting traditional knowledge, innovations and practices
Open this folder and view contents6. Problems and gaps in traditional medicine in relation to modern patent laws
View the document7. Group discussion on existing problems and gaps for the protection of traditional medicine knowledge
Open this folder and view contents8. Presentations on national patent law: means, experiences and proposals
View the document9. Recommendations
View the documentAnnex I. Message to the Workshop from Dr Uton Muchtar Rafei, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia Region
View the documentAnnex II. Welcome address from Dr Mongkol Na Songkhla, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Public Health, Thailand
View the documentAnnex III. Workshop Agenda
View the documentAnnex IV. List of Participants

2.5. Challenges to close the gap between existing patent laws and the need to protect traditional knowledge and biodiversity

At present, the requirements for protection provided under international standards for patent law and by most national patent laws are inadequate to protect traditional knowledge and biodiversity. For example, traditional skills in manual and spiritual therapies are different from those in modern practice and there is no record of who was the inventor. Similarly, other traditional non-medication therapies are very difficult to protect using current standards of patent protection.

Existing conventional patent law can and does protect pharmaceutical products. However, herbal medicines and herbal products are different from chemical drugs. The intellectual property standards established by the Agreement of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) (1994) allows innovation to be protected by the discovery of new chemical components, know-how in producing the product, trademarks and trade secrets. However, for herbal medicines it is difficult to meet all the requirements of patentability due to their intrinsic characteristics.

Firstly, herbal medicines are crude plant materials, such as leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, stems, wood, bark, roots, rhizomes or other plant parts, which may be entire, fragmented or powdered. As such, it is often not possible to obtain existing patent law protection for herbal medicines by claiming the discovery of new chemical entities, which are novel, involve an inventive step and are industrially applicable.

Secondly, herbal products are powdered herbal materials, or extracts, tinctures and fatty oils of herbal materials prepared by steeping or heating herbal materials in alcoholic beverages and/or honey, or in other materials. The production process is usually simple. There is no know-how or invention in the preparation process that is sophisticated enough to justify protection under existing patent laws.

Thirdly, except for pharmaceutical companies and industries, other holders of traditional knowledge, such as research institutes and practitioners, often do not have the financial and human resources that are necessary to obtain protection through trademarks.

Fourthly, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to keep knowledge a secret, because disclosure of the composition of the product is a prerequisite for registration of herbal medicines before the product can be sold.

Fifthly, it is very expensive to acquire, exercise and enforce patent rights in most countries, particularly if international coverage is required. The cost is prohibitive for traditional practitioners and research institutions, particularly in the poorer countries.

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