Traditional Knowledge Digital Library : The Tale of Inflated Claims?

Much has been written about the efficacy of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) in protecting India’s TK against biopiracy. ( See here, here and here). Infact, my LL.M. research also focused on the broader issue of biopiracy.

Just when I was thinking of refining my paper (in order to get it published), I stumbled upon an article on WIPO’s website while researching on the current status of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). In the article, Dr. V.K. Gupta, the brain behind TKDL explains the role of the database in thwarting biopiracy attempts by MNCs. .

traditional knowledge
Image Courtesy : The Lifeintelect Blog

A cursory look at the document and I was appalled by it’s vagueness, blatant lies and hyperbole. In this post, I’ll highlight the relevant excerpts from the document which caught my attention –

The TKDL expert group estimated that, annually, some 2,000 patents relating to Indian medicinal systems were being erroneously granted by patent offices around the world.

I would expect a document submitted to the WIPO to be backed by references. Following questions come to my mind –

Q.  What is the constitution of this TKDL expert group?

Q. In which year was the study conducted?

Q. Is the Report in public domain? ( I could not find it)

Q. What is the ambit of the expression, ” patent offices around the world“?  Does it include only the major patent offices ( to which TKDL is available on a non – disclosure basis) or does it have a wider scope?

( As of date, TKDL is available to the USPTO, the EPO, the JPO, IP Australia, CIPO, the GPO, UKPTO and CGPDTM-India on a non-disclosure basis.)

In one case the applicant modified the claims submitted and, in 33 other cases, the applicants themselves withdrew their four to five-year-old applications upon presentation of TKDL evidence – a tacit admission of biopiracy by the applicants themselves.

How can withdrawal of a patent application be inferred as a tacit admission of biopiracy is beyond my comprehension? I’m not discounting that prior art as documented in TKDL may have put the applicants in a spot. However, labelling it as ” tacit admission of biopiracy” without divulging the details is exaggeration to say the least.

The best is yet to come,

India is the only country in the world to have set up an institutional mechanism – the TKDL – to protect its TK. The TKDL enables prompt and almost cost-free cancellation or withdrawal of patent applications relating to India’s TK.

Perhaps Dr. VK Gupta at the time of penning this down was ignorant about the existence of the China Traditional Chinese Medicine Patents Database which dates back to June 17, 2002.

I’ve written to Dr. Archana Sharma, Head of CSIR – TKDL Unit for a clarification on some of these points.  As soon as I hear from her (if at all! ), I’ll bring forth her response to the questions raised.

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