National measures and experience for protection of traditional Indian medical knowledge of Ayurveda in the regime of intellectual property rights
Dr K. Sharma, Adviser Ayurveda, Govt. of India, presented this paper.
Introduction: Ayurveda - the Indian system of medicine
India is an ancient, vast country, having a wide variety of vegetation zones from the high alpine Himalayas, to extensive seashores, arid western zones and humid eastern regions. India’s flora is very rich in having all types of plants ranging from the lowest to the most highly developed flowering plants.
The rational utilization of herbs for treating illness and other purposes began with Vedas (6000 BC). This knowledge was developed and documented in the Samhita Period (1000 BC) and was further enriched up to the Nighantu Period (19th Century). More and more plants were added to the Ayurvedic Materia Medicas with the passage of time.
Lord Buddha (600 BC) was also a great scholar of Ayurveda. Ayurveda travelled with Buddhism from India to China, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, Korea, etc.
Texts of Ayurveda like Charak Samhita (1000 BC) and Sushrut Samhita (600 BC) are still being taught in India in the Ayurvedic Medical Colleges.
Ayurveda - the science of life is said to have evolved with the evolution of the human race in the universe. Ayurveda is a continuous living tradition and an official health care system in India having the following infrastructure.
• Independent Department of Indian Systems of Medicine (Ayurveda) under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India.
• Twenty States of the Republic of India have separate Directorates of Ayurveda and Indian Systems of Medicine.
• There are over 400,000 registered practitioners of Ayurveda in India, most of them institutionally qualified.
• There are 190 graduate degree colleges of Ayurveda and 50 post-graduate (MD -Ph.D. Ayurveda) degree awarding institutions under the university education system.
• Education and practice is regulated by the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970 (IMCC Act 1970).
• Ayurvedic medicines are regulated under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules thereunder.
• Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India (3 Volumes) is readily available.
• Ayurvedic Formularies of India (2 volumes) have been published.
• There are over 22,000 Government dispensaries, 3000 hospitals and 9000 drug manufacturing units.
• Research Councils of Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani are functioning.
• Knowledge of systems and medicament of Ayurveda is documented in Sanskrit, Hindi and ten regional languages of India.
• Much Ayurvedic and related knowledge is also in oral tradition, which is yet to be documented.
• Folk medicines, tribal medicine and home remedies in India have roots in Ayurveda, and need documentation, protection and propagation.
The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library
Recently, an increasing number of plants, routinely and commonly used in India for medicinal purposes, are being patented, with the claim that they are efficacious for a variety of diseases. Such uses are being treated as new discoveries based on a novel use of such plants, although these have been utilized for their medicinal properties for centuries and continue to be in active use even today. Patents have been granted in large numbers covering the use of such plants, treating the claim as a discovery or an invention. It is, therefore, necessary to see that the knowledge that is available in the texts which relates to the concepts, skills, procedures, processes, formulations and the medicinal properties of the plants, minerals and metals, is made available in a manner that can be easily accessed to show that prior art already exists, which alone can forestall the future grant of patents for similar or derived uses.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s Forum on Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy in the 21st Century, held in New Delhi in July 2000, resolved to extend protection of areas of traditional knowledge utilizing the established advantages of information technology through the setting up of a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. It also resolved to consider the possibility of creating a sui generis system for the protection of traditional knowledge, including expressions of folklore and genetic resources, where the existing intellectual property regime does not adequately address concerns relating to these areas. It further resolved to protect and preserve traditional knowledge, encourage innovation and creativity and promote the sharing of benefits through the effective use of appropriate systems, including intellectual property systems.
Setting up of task force
A task force was set up consisting of representatives of the Department of Indian Systems of Medicine, Ayurveda experts, patent examiners, information technology experts, scientists from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, the National Informatics Centre, and Ayurvedic experts from Banaras Hindu University. The Task Force, after detailed deliberation, submitted a report on establishing a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) so as to make all documented information easily and comprehensively accessible to patent examiners with the objective of preventing the granting of patents for non-original inventions by making available what is already available in our traditional system in published form. Once we have prepared such a database, WIPO would be able to make it available to others through their Intellectual Property Network.
TKDL will help to integrate widely scattered references on our traditional Ayurvedic systems in a retrievable form. It will act as a bridge between traditional and modern systems of medicine and will also provide a major impetus to modern research. TKDL will thus prevent misinterpretation of knowledge existing in the public domain and therefore obviate the need for contesting patents, which is a costly and time-consuming exercise. It will thus save time, energy and exorbitant expenditure on contesting patents that are granted and help protect our intellectual property. In addition, TKDL will directly benefit and facilitate practitioners of Ayurveda, manufacturers and the public, as the information which is presently in Sanskrit, Persian, Urdu, Tamil and other regional languages contained in the classical texts, will be available in a comprehensive, intelligible and easily accessible manner in other languages such as English, German, French, etc.
The TKDL model developed by India to protect is traditional Ayurvedic knowledge could be followed by other nations to set up TKDLs of their knowledge. This is the only way to protect one’s national heritage, knowledge that has already existed in the public domain for centuries.