India has notched a significant win against intellectual property trolls after it succeed this year in retaining rights to its so-called “traditional knowledge,” after the UK-based firm Pangaea Laboratories Limited (PLL) attempted to patent a simple mixture of turmeric, pine bark, and green tea in the treatment of hair loss.
This is India’s second recent win against big corporations seeking to patent nature, after having defeated Colgate-Palmolive when they attempted to patent a traditional mouthwash recipe using herbal extracts.
The group fighting the trolls is the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), and their counsel was able to prove to the European Patent Office (EPO) that the turmeric, pine bark, and green tea has been used in Indian systems of medicine since ancient times.
The issue is sometimes referred to as “biopiracy” and is demonstrated by the presenting of indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants as an original discovery, without credit to the community from which that knowledge originated. PLL filed their application in February of 2011, and was challenged by the TKDL in January of 2014 following publication of the patent application on the EPO website. The TKDL has won over 200 such cases with citations from ancient texts as proof for their claims, and all without any expense to the public.
Founded in 2001, the TKDL has agreements with the EPO, United Kingdom Trademark & Patent Office, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which gives each of those organizations access to TKDL’s database of traditional knowledge. Because patent examiners now have access to the online records, there is no longer a need for prolonged and expensive legal cases, as the claims can be proved in an online search.
The TKDL was established in collaboration with India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which itself tops the list of holders of U.S. patents. As an earlier example of its defense against biopiracy, the CSIR denied a U.S. patent application for the use of neem as an insecticide.