NUJS I(P)DEATE Series: Graham Dutfield on Traditional Medicines and IP

The NUJS IP Chair and IPTLS present the first IP speaker in the “I(P)DEATE” series this year. Yes, owing to protests from certain quarters of engendering a classist bias, we’ve changed the name of our IP discussion series from “VIP” to “I(P)DEATE”.
We’re very privileged to have one of the leading IP and development Scholars, Prof Graham Dutfield speak to us on “traditional medicines” and patents:

Venue: Room 006, NUJS, Kolkata
Date: Jan 22, 2010 (Friday)
Time: 3 pm to 5 pm (including QandA)
Registration: If you’re interested in attending, please send an email with your name, designation and institution to shayonee[at] Attendance is free.

Given that Graham began writing on traditional knowledge (TK) since the mid 1990’s, when it was still a novelty (no pun intended) amongst most academics, his talk promises to offer rare insights. I list out his brief bio before giving you an outline of what he proposes to discuss.

“Graham Dutfield is Professor of International Governance at Leeds University School of Law. He is also associated with the Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre at Oxford University, Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, and the Center for Studies of Intellectual Property Rights at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Wuhan, China.

His research on intellectual property crosses several disciplines, including law, history, politics, economics and anthropology. More general scholarly interests include the law, science and business of technical innovation from the enlightenment to the present, especially in the life sciences. Other research areas include intellectual property and access to knowledge, human rights, sustainable development, health, agriculture, genetics, biotechnology, traditional knowledge and folklore, bioprospecting, and indigenous peoples’ rights.

Recent books include Intellectual Property Rights and the Life Science Industries: Past, Present and Future (2nd ed.), and Global Intellectual Property Law (with U Suthersanen). In June 2010, Cambridge University Press will publish Intellectual Property and Human Development: Current Trends and Future Scenarios (edited with T Wong).

And now for the gist of his talk:

From Traditional Medicines to Modern Drugs: Do Patents Protect Inventions and Promote Piracy?

For as long as there has been a pharmaceutical industry, traditional knowledge has provided innumerable successful leads in the discovery of drugs that have generated enormous profits. Because the pharmaceutical industry’s emergence in the late 19th century, and its further evolution since then, seem like such a radical break from the past, it is all too easy to overlook this fact. In consequence, the role of traditional knowledge (TK) is under-appreciated. This has in turn resulted in TK holders and their communities deriving virtually no benefits from the commercial use of their knowledge by drug firms.

The pharmaceutical industry is science based. Arguably, it not only ‘invented’ in-house corporate research and development, but also modern intellectual property management strategy including the aggressive assertion of patents and other intellectual property rights, especially trade marks. But patents appear to do more than just protect the expensive inventions and R&D investments of corporations. They seem also to enable them to secure legal monopolies over the knowledge, innovations and practices of members of traditional communities.

Numerous cases of such “biopiracy” are cited, and not just in health. These include patents relating to neem, turmeric, hoodia and other products and associated knowledge that are common in India or in other parts of the world including Latin America and Africa. If novelty and inventive step are essential requirements for the grant of a patent, how can traditional knowledge be misappropriated? This seminar will seek answers.
ps: image from here.

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5 thoughts on “NUJS I(P)DEATE Series: Graham Dutfield on Traditional Medicines and IP”

  1. Dear Shamnad,

    Would appreciate if you could just provide a few examples of the traditional knowledge which have resulted in so called sucessful leads?
    Coming from a pharmaceutical industry i would dispute your assertion of the above cited fact of yours.
    Pharmaceutical industries conventionally develop their leads based on the synthetic chemistry which really require lots of effort on the part of the R&D.
    Can’t really recall any turmeric or neem based prescription product?
    Raghu Sharma

  2. Hi Shamnad and Raghu

    Nothing in the description of my talk actually contradicts the basic truth that not much is coming out of traditional knowledge-based research TODAY. Hopefully that will become more clear when I come to Kolkata next week. Nonetheless, in the course of the industry’s existence, traditional knowledge has definitely contributed substantially, albeit in a variety of ways. I’m not a “TK romantic”; nonetheless, I tend to think the industry’s present-day practice of turning its nose up at traditional knowledge is probably a missed opportunity. I appreciate the comment and will specifically address it.

    See you next week.


    Graham Dutfield

  3. Thanks Graham. Unfortunately i cant make it to your lecture. But would appreciate if Shamnad or some of his peer blogggers would post the slides on this site for future debate.


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