How can scientists in the U.S. file for patents on agricultural and medicinal products with minor innovations from what is traditional knowledge?

The problem lies with the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) systen, under the World Trade Organization (WTO).

At the end of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations in 1994, IPRs were regulated world-wide under the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The system was designed for inventions which were formal, such as those carried out in universities and laboratories, or as part of industrial R&D. As of now, the WTO does not recognize technology innovations by farmers, artisans, or grassroots innovators, which happen in an informal setup. These form a large part of traditions knowledges.

Additionally, the IPR system is oriented around the concept of private ownership and industrial innovation. That is at odds with indigenous cultures which emphasize collective creation and ownership of knowledge.

When the U.S. introduced IPRs, it accused the Third World of “piracy”. The U.S. official stance estimated that royalties lost in agricultural chemicals was $202 million and about $2.5 billion for pharmaceuticals. However, the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), in Canada has shown that if the contributions of Third World rurals and tribals are taken into account, the roles are dramatically reversed, they estimated: the US owes $302 million in royalties for agriculture and about $5.1 billion for pharmaceuticals to Third World countries.

In 2010, India’s Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, said, “Indian culture is not written, it is in an oral form that is conveyed from one generation to another. But modern society is based on written form.” The Indians set up the Traditional Knowledge Digital Libray (TKDL), a collaborative project of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy. It uses tools of information technology and a new classification system to make available traditional medical knowledge to patent offices in developed countries, so that what was known for centuries is not patented by individuals, companies, and research organizations as something they claim to have discovered or invented by themselves.

The TKDL devised a modern classification system based on the structure of International Patent Classification (IPC) for India’s traditional systems: Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga. This knowledge found in Sanskrit, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Arabic, Persian and Urdu texts, was inaccessible and incomprehensible to most. The focus of TKDL was on breaking the language and format barriers by scientifically converting and structuring the available traditional knowledge. This knowledge culled from the ancient Indian texts has been translated into Japanese, English, Spanish, German, and French.

Will cannabis’ folk medicine history help in keep the plant available, or will the boys from the University of Mississippi put pot in a bottle that you may only purchase from Big Pharma?

Original Book (The 15-Ounce Pound):
How can scientists in the U.S. file for patents on agricultural and medicinal products with minor innovations from what is traditional knowledge?
Artwork Fair Use: Public Domain