PIJIP Fellow Swarna Latha published in the European Intellectual Property Review

Latha, Swarna S. “Biopiracy and Protection of Traditional Medicine in India.” European Intellectual Property Review 31, no. 9 (2009): 465-477.

Health is the chief basis for the development of the ethical, economic, artistic and spiritual sides of man and it is a widely accepted fact that traditional health care systems or traditional medicine (TM) offers a wide range of safe, cost effective, natural therapies, which can be used alone or in conjunction with allopathic health care. Because of this reason, these systems and therapies are used to a large extent to meet the health care needs of the majority of people around the world. As a result of the systematic developments and improvements, these systems are now being used more widely by the public at national and international levels. TM is widely practiced in most of the developing countries. Even to this day it plays a crucial role in health care and serves the health needs of a vast majority of people in these countries. In Asia, around 70 per cent of the population continues to use TM as a result of historical circumstances and cultural beliefs. The World Health Organization (WHO) points out that in Africa and India up to 80 per cent of the population use TM to meet health care needs. In China, TM accounts for around 40 per cent of all health care delivered annually. Even in the developed countries there is a growing demand for the traditional and complementary/alternative medicine (CAM).

TM becomes the only affordable treatment available to poor people where access to modern health care services and medicine is limited for various economic, social and cultural reasons. As mentioned earlier, TM is becoming increasingly popular in the developed countries, because of which the drug industries are now engaged in coming up with varieties of herbal medicines under the name of CAM. It is found that many pharmaceutical products produced and used in the developed countries are based on, or consist of, biological materials sourced through reference to TM. These include compounds extracted from plants and algae, as well as from microbial sources and animals. Plants, in particular, are an indispensable source of such pharmaceuticals. However, there is a myth that benefits of TM are imperfectly known to the world. But in reality the rapid developments of technology have given the necessary impetus to the misappropriation of TM. Instances of processing of molecules by most of the western companies to find out the medicinal characteristics of the herbs and plants used for various systems of TM and thereafter producing a new drug and granting patents for such newly created drugs are increasing. The demand for “herbal medicines” made up of TM has grown dramatically in recent years and often results in misappropriation of these knowledge systems, leaving the owners of TM without any benefits. For these reasons, many countries have called for urgent protection of TM.

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Photograph of Deadly Nightshade, a plant useful in cardiology and opthalmolog, (cc) David Hawgood.


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