India wants an effective legal international regime to stop misappropriation and reckless patenting of traditional knowledge like healing properties of neem and turmeric.
The initiative would help in giving global protection against patenting or commercial exploitation of traditional knowledge base of developing countries like India.
Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said the national laws alone "can never address fully the issues of misappropriation of existing knowledge in foreign patent offices and therefore, we need an international regime in order to address issues related to biopiracy".
She said developing countries, including India, have time and again asked and floated proposals in the WTO for incorporating a new provision in the TRIPS (trade related aspects of intellectual property rights) agreement of the WTO.
Under the provision, the developing countries have asked for mandatory disclosure of source or origin of the biological resource, evidence of prior informed consent and benefit sharing from patent applicants before granting any patent to a company.
The statement assumes significance as several multi-national companies in the pharma sector have already patents for manufactured products using the key properties of traditional knowledge. Many more patent applications are awaiting approvals in different countries.
Traditional knowledge is something which is passed on from generation to generation within a community. It often forms part of a people's cultural and spiritual identity.
India has also demanded for adequately compensating the creators and preservers of this knowledge.
"Effective international regime will create certainty of access for users, including MNCs and the developed countries, while also ensuring against patenting of existing knowledge," she said.
The regime will also promote R&D in this areas at a pace that has not been experienced so far, she added.
"There is certainly a need for an international legal regime that makes the patent office the check point to contain misappropriation," she said.
In the absence of such a regime, "you will have traditional knowledge being patented, thereby providing a monopoly rights to an existing knowledge and this in turn would effect not only the livelihood of traditional practitioners but also millions of people, including those where the knowledge originated traditionally".
There are many examples of the asymmetry between the benefits that some countries have obtained by commercially exploiting products derived from traditional knowledge and the lack of the benefit to the real owners, the secretary said.
She was speaking at the International Conference on TRIPS-CBD Linkage here. It was organised by the Centre for WTO Studies.
Citing certain statistics, Teaotia said use of traditional
medicines are increasing in both developed and developing countries and in such a scenario it is important to protect and extend commercial benefit to the original owners of that knowledge.
According to a report, domestic trade of Ayush industry in India is about USD 1.2 billion. The world trade in herbal products are at USD 120 billion and is expected to touch around USD 7 trillion by 2050.
"The purpose of these statistics is to state that it is currently a very big business and it is something that needs to be recognised and put it into rightful perspective in the global trade," Teaotia said.
Majority of the countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America do have traditional medicines, she said.
"Patents have been granted to healing properties of turmeric and neem, which have been used in India since time immemorial, in both the US and EU," she added.