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    India, WIPO Connect On Traditional Knowledge Protection, With Or Without Patents

    Published on 28 March 2011 @ 5:43 pm

    By and , Intellectual Property Watch

    The World Intellectual Property Organization went to India last week to highlight the country’s success in creating a digital library of Indian traditional knowledge, which it uses to prevent illegitimate patenting of its resources. But whether WIPO found a way to fit the Indian project into the UN agency’s mission to protect and promote intellectual property rights was unclear.

    The 22-24 March conference was supported by the Indian government for “internationalising India’s pioneering Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) as a template for the benefit of developing countries seeking to protect their traditional knowledge,” according to the press information bureau of the government of India. Now, according to WIPO, the director of the library is interested in finding ways to use the library “to create new IP, within the existing IP system, for example in open innovation models.”

    The conference was co-organised by WIPO and India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The CSIR has a somewhat checkered past in terms of representing the Indian government with WIPO.

    India has been in WIPO’s sights for several years. In 2005, India implemented a new patent law in order to comply with the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), creating a large new market for WIPO activities. Western lobbyists have worked to increase understanding in India of the potential economic opportunities in patenting, which is significant for a country that is the leading producer of generic medicines and has a deep supply of biodiversity and traditional knowledge. Western firms also have fought India’s patent law in court to try to weaken provisions giving India the ability to reject patents.

    WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, former head of patents at WIPO, has wooed India by hiring a top Indian negotiator to be his chief of staff, and previously engaged the former Indian ambassador to Geneva to be a special advisor.

    The Indian government has been fairly pragmatic about these strokes by WIPO, and about patenting. But the WIPO chief of staff, Naresh Prasad, was quoted in a WIPO press release from the event as saying it will be up to WIPO members if they want the organisation to join with the CSIR to make India’s digital library a model for other countries and to focus it on making traditional knowledge a source of innovation that could “inspire life-saving medicines.” This suggests he is encouraging India to move toward more patenting.

    When he was named to WIPO in 2009, Prasad was accused by opposition party members of breaking Indian government rules requiring a grace period before joining any organisation at which an official had represented the government.

    CSIR also had a run-in related to WIPO. In 2005, WIPO held an invite-only event outside Geneva intended to build support for a WIPO initiative to push patent harmonisation favoured by developed countries. CSIR Director-General R.A. Mashelkar chaired the event, and was represented by WIPO (without objection from the CSIR director) as India offering support for the WIPO initiative. The Indian government later clarified its opposition to the initiative and that Mashelkar attended on his own behalf (IPW, WIPO, 10 April 2005).

    Patents and the TK Library

    International debates in recent years have focussed on how to give greater protection to local communities’ knowledge and biological resources, while also allowing for some commercial exploitation to their benefit and that of the rest of the world. Patents have been seen as inappropriate because they require making secrets public and give only 20 years protection – not very comforting for societies whose practices reach back hundreds of years.

    The library was established in essence to defend against patenting after a protracted battle to regain Indian control over long-used but little documented products and practices, and has been used to undo patents granted outside India on Indian traditional knowledge, according to the Indian press release. Now, however, it may be used to promote more patenting.

    According to the TKDL website, India is “the only country in the world to have set up an institutional mechanism” to protect its traditional knowledge and prevent the grant of illegitimate patents. It is a collaborative project between CSIR and the Department of AYUSH, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

    The “TKDL technology integrates diverse disciplines (Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha), languages (Sanskrit, Arabic, Urdu, Persian and Tamil) and converts and structures the available information in 34 million pages of ancient texts into five international languages (English, Japanese, French, German, and Spanish),” says the website.

    India signed TKDL access agreements with the European Patent Office and patent offices in the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia. An in-principal agreement has been reached with the Japan Patent Office and negotiations are ongoing with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.

    According to a WIPO press release, representatives from 35 countries were in Delhi for the meeting to benefit from India’s experience in TK protection. WIPO member states have been negotiating a legal international instrument to protect traditional knowledge for years, and talks recently began advancing in the Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC).

    Gurry described the TKDL approach as complementary to the work currently underway in the IGC. “The IGC’s negotiations are about developing the international legal architecture. In parallel, however, there is an important supplementary role for practical initiatives, which can change the international landscape often faster than legislative or normative approaches,” he said.

    To help with the IGC negotiations, expert working groups have been convened to meet between IGC sessions and will provide negotiating texts for the next meeting of the IGC from 9-13 May (IPW, WIPO, 4 March 2011).

    According to WIPO, Gurry said that India’s library could be a good model for other countries and said WIPO was ready to facilitate international collaboration. However he cautioned against a “one-size-fit-all” solutions and the “Indian model might need to be adapted to the specific situation of individual countries, in particular where a community’s TK is held orally.”

    The conference’s objectives were to share experiences and information on the role of a TKDL in the documentation of traditional knowledge, identify the IP issues and technical implications of a TKDL, and explore the role and functioning of the TKDL within the international IP protection system.

    According to the WIPO release, there have been “some political concerns associated with TK documentation projects, which are perceived by some as ‘facilitating biopiracy’, since documentation projects may facilitate access to TK that was not publicly available before, or TK that had been disclosed without the free, prior and informed consent of affected indigenous and local communities.”

    During the last IGC expert working group meetings on traditional knowledge and genetic resources, indigenous groups voiced concern about what they felt was too much focus on the IP rights system to protect genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge against misappropriation (IPW, WIPO, 1 March 2011).

    William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

    Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

     

    Comments

    1. This week in review … WIPO-sponsored meeting concludes TKDL can prevent misappropriation, fuel innovation « Traditional Knowledge Bulletin says:

      [...] continues. Read the WIPO press release … Read a release from the UN News Centre … Read the IP Watch article: India, WIPO Connect on Traditional Knowledge Protection, With or Without … Read an Intellectual Property Brief post: India’s Digital Library of Traditional Knowledge – a [...]


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    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

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    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

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    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

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