Cases of biopiracy in India – Turmeric patent controversy

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The turmeric patent had been granted in March 1995 to two non-resident Indians associated with the University of Mississippi Medical Centre, Jackson, USA for “"Use of Turmeric in Wound Healing."

Turmeric is scientifically Curcuma longa.

It was revoked on the grounds of lacking the novelty requirement.

Revocation of so many patents makes you wonder if the US Patent Office always had its head in the clouds and always needed a giant flash of lightning to make it come out of them.

Its no surprise that this patent came to be revoked – what’s surprising is that it was even accepted.

Let us list the many uses of turmeric shall we?

• When applied to an open wounds, functions a painless antiseptic – there you go, their patent goes down the drain
• Used as kumkum in all Hindu temples and as a sign of matrimony
• We use it in so many foods – rarely is Benarasi or South Indian dish seen without it. Why? Simply because it is a wonderful digestive.
• Many women across the country use it a natural epilator
• Treatment of diarrhoea, arthritis and many skin diseases
• Some of the newly discovered facts about it:
o As an astounding anti-cancer agent.
o COX-2 inhibitor drugs have been known to block an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 which aggravates arthritis. Turmeric contains curcumin which inhibits this enzyme.

Why do such incidences keep happening?

Section 102 of the US Patent Act does not provide a general definition of 'prior art', but a very narrow rule-bound method to be used by low-level patent examiners for determining which materials will defeat a patent application by violation of the novelty and non-obviousness criteria.

Prior foreign activity anticipates a US patent only when the foreign activity is in a tangible, accessible form such as a published document or a patent. However, prior foreign knowledge, use and invention are all excluded when the question of prior art is considered in relation to a US patent application.

What a glaring loophole?

US’s reply to India’s constant patent problems:

'India has not yet made available product patent protection for pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals, and thus has chosen to take advantage of at least part of the exclusive marketing rights. Thus, India has violated its obligations under Article 70, paragraphs 8 and 9, of the TRIPs Agreement to (1) establish a mailbox system in its law, and ensure that no applicants are denied eligibility for patent protection because of the delay in establishing the mailbox system, and (2) establish a system for the grant of exclusive marketing rights.'

Isn’t it surprising how such a simple issue has become a matter of national pride?

There is a very valuable lesson to be learnt here: it’s the simplest thing in the world to find a loophole in something if you really want to but the most difficult thing in the world to be able to hold your head up when you’re discovered.

There’s nothing as peaceful as a clear conscience is there?

References:
http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/tur-cn.htm
http://content.herbalgram.org/seelecttea/HerbalGram/articleview.asp?a=1242
http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/content/traditions/turmeric.html

nirupama's picture
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Comments

Eswar GsnkRao's picture

Nice to see such a debating blog....
eswar :-)

Regards

ESWAR :-) 

nirupama's picture

thank you Sir!
i thought putting forward both points of view would be interesting.
glad to know u liked it!

guptashubhranshu's picture

Hey nirupama, nice blog... You have focussed all of the readers' attention towards the deficiencies of Indian regulations in the field of Patent grants....Nice work...

nirupama's picture

thanks!
i did try my best to focus on that....glad to know i was successful!

manthan.janodia's picture

Dear Nirupama,
You have touched on a very relevant topic. The case of turmeric, neem and basmati are a few examples of biopiracy. The figures given by Dr. Mashelkar for revoking a patent on turmeric is around 5 lakh INR. These are official figures and we know what is official figure when its by the government of India.

I think lot of money is going down the drain in fighting cases related to biopiracy.
What is surprising is that the patent on Turmeric was granted to Indians!!!!!!!!! and not Americans.

Blogbusters Manthan D.Janodia
nirupama's picture

thank you for your comment Sir!
i did not know that the patent was finaly granted to India....i did not come across that anywhere. thank you for the info!

manthan.janodia's picture

Dear Nirupama,
The patent on Turmeric is not granted to India. It is called as revocation of patents where patent on invention stands null and void.
What i meant to say that the inventors who applied and were granted patents on Turmeric were of Indian origin residing in America. And they exploited the loopholes of americal patent laws and fradulently obtained these patents. They had obtained patents on Turmeric for its use in wound healing which was well known in India since ages. Indian government provided about 35 proof to state that the patent which was claimed was not new.
I agree that my statement may create a confusion with readers.

Blogbusters Manthan D.Janodia
nirupama's picture

oh that clears it up.
thank you Sir!