Monday, October 26, 2015

V.K Gupta on TDKL database: "If we give access, these multinationals will steal everything.”

Nicola Twilley has an interesting post at the New Yorker titled: Who Owns the Patent on Nutmeg?.

Apart from the predictive quote of V.K. Gupta, which may have great relevance to issues in patent reform, there are some
anecdotes about the indigenous knowledge issue.

For example, there are significant quotations of Professor Chris Sprigman [UofC Law, 1993] , now at NYU:

Back in July, the Indian media triumphantly reported a news item that escaped the attention of many of their American and European counterparts—the country’s successful challenge of two European Union patents awarded to Colgate-Palmolive. The multinational had claimed intellectual-property rights on a nutmeg-based mouthwash and an herbal toothpaste. These products worked—that much was undisputed. Indeed, their usefulness in promoting dental health had been known in Indian culture for several thousand years. (In the case of the toothpaste, the Colgate chemists’ only substantive modification was to make the recipe less abrasive.) And there lay the problem: patents, as Christopher Sprigman, a professor at New York University School of Law, told me, “are only supposed to be granted on inventions that are novel and nonobvious. It’s not supposed to go to the ninth guy who invents the wheel.” The formulas that Colgate-Palmolive had claimed as its own inventions were clearly no such thing, and the Indian government promptly—and, ultimately, successfully—contested them.

The neem patent controversy is briefly mentioned:

According to the T.K.D.L.’s creator, V. K. Gupta, the final straw for him and his colleagues was a patent that the United States granted, in 1995, to two researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for the oral and topical application of turmeric to treat ulcers and surgical wounds. “The use of turmeric for healing wounds is known to every Indian,” Gupta said. “It is also in several of our ancient texts.” And yet the battle to overturn this and other patents—on a particular strain of basmati rice, on the use of neem oil as a pesticide—dragged on for the better part of a decade, with each case costing, Gupta estimated, between three million and five million dollars in legal fees.

IPBiz has been covering these controversies for some time. For example, from 2006

Thailand will submit information on mangosteen to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to try to stop an American food company from taking out patents based on the popular fruit. US-based Nature's Sunshine Products, a producer of herbal and food supplements, applied for patents for drinks made from mangosteen extracts on Oct 27, 2004. According to Kanissorn Navanugraha, the director-general of the Intellectual Property Department, extracting mangosteen for beverages was part of Thai traditional wisdom. "I will submit to the US authorities that Thais have been using traditional knowledge to derive extracts from mangosteen for a long time," he said.

This reminds one of the controversies surrounding the neem plant. One also thinks of the use of a book by "beat generation" poet Ginsburg as prior art in a certain plant patent case.

And in 2010, from
"Discovery" already known?

And, in 1999, from Intellectual Property Today

Interestingly, in rejecting Plant Patent 5,751 on Nov. 4, the PTO may have gone to a low-tech, but unconventional, source: the 1971 book "The Yage Letters" by beat-generation writers Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs which described their experiences under the influence of the plant (the ayahuasca). FROM: LBE, Commercialization of Information: Science Journals as Infomercials? IPT (Dec 99)


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