India protects its ancient remedies

The Indian government has licensed 200,000 traditional remedies as "public property", in effect making them free for use by anyone but barring them for sale as a "brand", the Guardian reported. The move is regarded as the first step by a developing country to stop multinational companies from "bio-prospecting", or patenting remedies made from local plants and animals.


In checking records in global trademark offices, officials found that 5,000 patents had been issued for "medical plants and traditional systems" – at a cost of at least US$150 million. "More than 2,000 of these belong to the Indian systems of medicine," said Vinod Kumar Gupta, who heads the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, which details the treatments. "We began to ask why multinational companies were spending millions of dollars to patent treatments that so many lobbies in Europe deny work at all."


India wants to have the corporate medicinal patents lifted. Officials also oppose the patenting of any yoga-related practices, because yoga also is considered a traditional medicine in India.


The battle to protect traditional treatments is based in the belief that the developing world’s rich biodiversity is a potential treasure trove of material for new drugs and crops. "If you can take a natural remedy and isolate the active ingredient," said Gupta, "then you just need drug trials and the marketing. Traditional medicine could herald a new age of cheap drugs."


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