New Database to Combat Biopiracy in India
Traditional medicinal plant knowledge from people living in developing countries is often exploited by companies from developed countries who forage for plants with novel medication applications. To improve this situation, a new database will combat biopiracy in India so as to better protect traditional knowledge from misappropriation by foreigners.

What is Biopiracy?

Biopiracy is when drug manufacturers profit from traditional tribal knowledge without compensating the tribe for their knowledge. This robbery of intellectual knowledge deprives the tribe of the modern medications that are a direct result of their knowledge base, and it also deprives tribes of any form of compensation for the use of knowledge to produce new medical products.

Issues with Compensation

The major issue of biopiracy in India is that the tribe that initially discovers the medical application of plants in their region is not compensated for their knowledge; meanwhile, Western drug companies profit from the medical application of the plants. One of the main reasons it is so difficult to combat biopiracy is because patent inspection offices do not often have access to the knowledge of traditional healing practices in developing countries. To address this problem, the database to combat biopiracy in India contains translations of texts written in traditional languages about traditional healing methods.

Turmeric Exploitation

One example of such exploitation is the medical applications of the spice turmeric. Traditional Indian healers recently needed to prove in court that turmeric has been used since time immemorial for healing, and that the patent about using turmeric was not a novel medical application. The database to combat biopiracy in India will ensure that traditional knowledge is neither misappropriated by bioprospectors or misused because the researcher studying the plants was unaware of that the plant was already used by traditional healers as a medicine.

Traditional Knowledge Digital Library

The database to combat biopiracy in India is called the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TDKL), and this program solves language issues that make it challenging to eradicate biopiracy. Since traditional knowledge in India is written in numerous languages indecipherable to modern patent inspectors, many patents are granted plants that are already used in India.

By translating these texts and putting them in a database easy for patent officers to search, the TDKL has helped protect traditional knowledge in India and ensure such knowledge does not get usurped from biopiracy.

Preventing Foreign Misappropriation

Biopiracy can also happen in the production of food. A company in America tried to get a patent and trademark to gain a monopoly on the term ‘basmati rice.’ Basmati rice is a food staple grown in India and a major aspect of India’s heritage.

Since biopiracy is the attempt to use the legal methods available in developed countries, patent and trademark offices, to usurp the intellectual property of people who live in developing countries, traditional knowledge passed down usually by oral traditions are at risk for natives in developing countries.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr