It’s difficult for indigenous cultures in developing countries to protect their traditional knowledge (TK) from exploitation. Opportunistic individuals and corporations try to patent and sell traditional medical knowledge, since patent examiners often can’t locate any prior art to reject the patents. This theft of medical or biological TK is known as “bio-piracy”, and Dr. Mangala Anil Hirwade discusses the prevalence of bio-piracy in India in the conference paper “Protecting Traditional Knowledge Digitally:A Case Study of TKDL” (PDF). According to Dr. Hirwade, “In 2000, CSIR [Council of Scientific and Industrial Research] found that almost 80 per cent of the 4,896 references to individual plant based medicinal patents in the United States Patents Office that year related to just seven medicinal plants of Indian origin.”
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) describes how the Indian Government began to create the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) in 2001 in order to make Indian TK available in a format accessible to patent examiners. This post gives an overview of how the TKDL is made accessible to patent examiners and demonstrates a simple search within a representative version of the TKDL.
How the TKDL is Accessible to Patent Examiners
The TKDL homepage contains a FAQ section which explains why the TKDL was created and why the entries are classified in a standardized format. According to the FAQ section, “TKDL breaks the language and format barrier and makes available this information in English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese in patent application format, which is easily understandable by patent examiners.” The TKDL translates and formats traditional knowledge, originally only available “in local languages such as Sanskrit, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Tamil, etc.,” into Western languages available in a simple, consistent format.
The TKDL also organizes the TK in a manner familiar to patent examiners. The FAQ section describes how:
Traditional Knowledge documentation lacked a classification system. Therefore, a modern classification system i.e. Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification (TKRC), based on the structure of International Patent Classification (IPC)[has] been evolved for Indian Systems of Medicine viz., Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Yoga.
A Representative Search
After reading about how easy the TKDL is to use, I was eager to explore the database. Unfortunately, the full TKDL is only accessible to certain patent offices, according the the summary of the database at the WIPO website. The TKDL homepage does offer a representative version of the database, however, so I was able to search the “Representative Database of 1200 Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha Formulations” for a common medicinal plant known as “bhang”. (As further proof of the effectiveness of the TKDL: Evidence from the TKDL was recently used to reject a European application to patent bhang, according to India Today.)
I first went to an English-language version of the TKDL homepage.
I clicked on the the “TKDL Search” button in the upper left-hand corner to access the representative database, and I chose to conduct a search in the “advanced search” section. You can search in the fields “Keyword,” “IPC Code,” “Title”, “Biblio,” or “Disease”. I just conducted a keyword search with the term “bhang.”
The search results include a short description of each listing, including the Treatment uses, IPC Codes, the age of the TK, a bibliography of sources, and a list of keywords and ingredients.
If you click on a listing in the search result, you can view the full “Key Attributes” section. This longer listing includes highlighted instances of the keyword, a full list of classification codes from both the TKRC and the IPC, details about the “process /formulation” of the plant or medicine, and a list of original documents in which the medicine is described. Scanned images of original documents are linked to the “Key Attribute” page under the section “List of Documents with Date of Publication (Prior Art).” These scanned documents are in the original languages, like Arabic or Sanskrit.
Just a single listing from this representative database illustrates how valuable this tool will be in locating previously inaccessible prior art. Patent examiners can search the TKDL in their native language and in a familiar format, and they can locate scanned images of prior art in the original language. According to the WIPO website, WIPO and the Indian CSIR recently hosted a conference in New Delhi, attended by “representatives from 35 countries,” which discussed how the model of the TKDL could be implemented in other countries to protect indigenous TK. Is the TKDL an innovative new model for digital databases created to protect traditional knowledge, or will this “digital library” model only work for India? What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
- “About the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.” WIPO News and Events, http://www.wipo.int/meetings/en/2011/wipo_tkdl_del_11/about_tkdl.html. Accessed on March 30, 2011.
- “FAQ.” Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, http://www.tkdl.res.in/tkdl/langdefault/common/Faq.asp?GL=Eng. Accessed on March 30, 2011.
- Hirwade, M. “Protecting Traditional Knowledge Digitally: a Case Study of TKDL, 2010. “ In National Workshop on Digitization Initiatives & Applications in Indian Context, DNC, Nagpur. January 3, 2010.Accessed via E-LIS at http://hdl.handle.net/10760/14020 [Conference Paper]. Accessed on March 29, 2011.
- “Indian scientists foil UK firm’s plan to patent bhang.” Mail Today Science Bureau. March 23, 2011. Accessed via India Today, http://www.indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/133132/india/scientists-foil-uk-firm-plan-to-patent-bhaang.html. Accessed on March 29, 2011.
- “WIPO and India Partner to Protect Traditional Knowledge from Misappropriation.” WIPO News and Events. WIPO. Posted on March 22, 2011. http://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2011/article_0008.html. Accessed on March 29, 2011.
This post was contributed by Joelle Mornini. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company Landon IP,a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.