A Canadian company has been denied patent for a hair and scalp medical formulation by the government after the Ministry of Science and Technology opposed the application on the ground that it was part of traditional Indian medicine.
Island Laboratories Inc, a Canadian company, had filed an application for patent with the Controller General of Patent Designs and Trademark under the Ministry of Commerce, in 2007, on a concoction which promised hair growth and improvement in hair and scalp health.
The medical formulation comprised one or more extracts from plants like Veratrum, Buxus, Holarrhena, Solarium, Rauwolfia for promoting hair growth, reducing hair loss and enhancing or restoring hair colour.
The decision was challenged by Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a wing of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) under the Ministry of S&T.
In "pre-grant opposition" filed by CSIR-TKDL, they gave many references in which Veratrum, Buxus and Holarrhena were used for treating alopecia (spot baldness), premature greying of hair, boils in scalp and use as hair tonic in Indian systems of medicine. They claimed extracts from these plants had been in use in traditional Indian medicine since long.
The TKDL, which has records of several ancient Indian texts dating back hundreds of years from ayurveda, unani and siddha, gave instances to the patent office. For instance, it cited references from a 13th century book by Aminuddaulah Abul Farj Ibn Al-Quff Maseehi's Kitaab-al-Umdah-fil-Jeraahat on the use of veratrum plant for the treatment of alopecia or an ancient Marathi book Vrindmadhava which talks about use of these plants for treatment of the condition.
The patent examiner referred the evidences sent by TKDL Unit, saying "when therapeutic effects of claimed plants are already known as traditional knowledge (the claim) cannot be considered as inventive."
Confirming the development, Archana Shukla, a senior scientist heading the TKDL wing, said, "Yes, we had filed a pre-grant opposition and the patent has not been granted." She, however, refused to comment any further on the issue.
Sources said TKDL opposing the patent was significant as the application had been filed in an Indian office.
"Had it been granted, it would have been difficult for Indian companies to sell their hair and scalp products even within the country," said a senior official.
TKDL was formed after a patent was granted over the medicinal uses of turmeric in 1995 by the US patent office. The CSIR had then vehemently opposed the decision and patent was revoked in 1997. TKDL has a digital collection of a plethora of ancient books consisting of traditional Indian medicinal knowledge.
Through TKDL, India has been able to protect its traditional knowledge in about 225 patent cases, including about 65 in the last 2-3 years alone.