We recently managed to get our hands on the ‘access agreements’ entered into between CSIR and the EPO, JPO & USPTO for the right to use the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL). The access agreements can be accessed over here, here and here. The TKDL is a significant achievement, in that it is has managed to digitize and translate into several languages a vast amount of information pertaining to India’s traditional knowledge. CSIR must receive its due share of credit for piloting this ambitious project. The TKDL was a direct response to the outcry against the patenting of India’s traditional knowledge at the USPTO and EPO. The three most famous examples of such patenting are the patents for neem, turmeric and basmati. The idea behind the TKDL was therefore to foreign patent offices access to a digital library which would aid them in prior art searches for those inventions which were hitherto found only in traditional texts in ancient books in various Indian languages. Image from here.
The ‘access agreements’ with the foreign patent offices are more like MoUs rather than binding legal contracts. Access to the TKDL has been made free for these foreign patent offices. As a natural consequence there is no ‘damages clause’. In the event of any dispute, both parties were expected to ‘seek an amicable settlement’.
I don’t understand as to why exactly CSIR is offering these foreign patent offices, free access to the TKDL? The government must have spent a substantial sum of money on creating the TKDL and going by the TKDL website, the library has been extremely useful in denying several patent applications before the EPO. If the TKDL is proving to be such a vital resource to foreign patent offices, CSIR must begin to charge them for accessing the TKDL. It is not like these foreign patent offices are doing India a favour by making sure Indian TK is not patented. At the end of the day the TKDL is increasing the quality of the patents that are granted in their foreign jurisdictions. Thus even these foreign countries are gaining from access to the TKDL. It’s a win-win situation for both India and other countries.
Besides I’m quite sure that foreign patent offices must be paying to access other scientific and technical databases for their prior art searches. Why then is CSIR giving them free access to the TKDL? Why should Indian taxpayer money be used to subsidize foreign patent offices? Let us not forget that CSIR never shies away from charging the Indian Patent Office for any services that it provides during the recruitment process or even the recent outsourcing deal. One can only hope that CSIR reviews its policy of ‘free access’ to the TKDL.