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IP and Traditional Medicine.


The lush flora in the State of Karnataka, besides providing the calming green to the eye, offers a manna of medicinal and therapeutic prescriptions.

Popularly hailed as the Garden City of India, Bangalore the State Capital of Karnataka has woken up to the fact that the vegetation in the forests of the Western Ghats region of the State has great potential in contributing to the burgeoning Indian Traditional Medicine(TM) and Complementary/Alternative Medicine (CAM) industry, now fast gaining ground on the international ramp.

(Interesting fact sheet on TM published by WHO for those interested in reading more.)

Excerpt from an article in The Hindu

In an effort to conserve its rich biodiversity, initiatives are afoot to document the rare and endangered species of medicinal plants. The Biotechnology Centre at Hulimavu in Bangalore has already documented 185 medicinal and aromatic plant species.

For example, “sarpagandha,” a medicinal plant found in these forests, is in great demand for its efficacy in treating hypertension and many other ailments, but is now an endangered species.

Its medicinal value is in its roots, for which the entire plant is uprooted, and this unscientific harvesting method is a cause for its depletion in the wild.

These rare and endangered plants have economical as well as educative value in society and are a part of traditional wealth and Traditional Knowledge (TK)

Many of these medicine rich horticulture plants qualify as prime candidates for a G.I right and some for a patent at the product stage. This new genre of IP right whilst serving as a tool to protecting TK wealth does not adequately address the questions of IP and beyond that are likely to rear it head with advances on this front While Kerala and Karnataka are factoring in the TK stream in their respective State IPR policy, a comprehensive Sui generic national legislation to protect its TK is sadly lacking, one that needs tending to.

Countries such as Kenya having realized that many its traditional medicinal wealth is ‘lying in its labs’ and may not see the light of the day unless and until there is a legislative mechanism and safeguard in place are working zealously to implement measures.

India has none, despite having well established systems of TM like Ayurveda and Siddha and Unani..No longer held as the land of shamans and miracle cures, Indian TM has come of age and hence deserving of protection. Lack of protection not only predisposes these resources to the risk of biopiracy, but also brings into play a larger social implication, wherein many tribal societies and communities traditionally engaged in the propagation of the TK-TM loose out on the benefits that should morally and ethically accrue to these societies.

The recently concluded Symposim on Intellectual Property and Bioethics at WIPO has emphasized on providing IP protection to the traditional collective knowledge of societies practiced and handed down over several generations. Lack of IP protection hinders optimum realization and actualization of the knowledge and does little to contribute towards sustainable development of the community.

As we harness our energy towards exploring and probing the realm of the unknown and working towards making forays into the world of modern biomeds, the world of the known that lies in our TK-TM knowledge base , and much neglected could do with some nurturing , protection and address. India heed!

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