Who Owns Ancient Medical Wisdom?
|August 11, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
Who Owns Ancient Medical Wisdom?
US Firm Obtains Patent on Ancient Remedy
Consider some age-old natural remedy for an ailment. Who really owns that remedy? The original discoverers, now long dead? Every person on Earth? Nobody? Or perhaps a U.S. corporation?
More and more often, U.S. patent officials are awarding patent rights to U.S. companies for “new” treatments that are neither new nor original. This abuse of law is an attack on property rights of all people worldwide. Here are portions of a recent report appearing in the Financial Express.
by Ashok B Sharma
The US patent and trademark office (USPTO) has granted patent rights on ancient, traditional knowledge of the usage of pigeon pea extracts for treating several diseases.
The USPTO has granted three patent rights (nos. 6,410,596; 6,541,522 and 6,542,511) to the bio-pharmaceutical company Insmed Inc, based in Richmond, Virginia, for its novel invention of pigeon pea extracts for treating diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity and artherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (clogged arteries).
- The Progress Report points out — it is not novel, and it is not an invention.
Pigeon pea with its botanical name cajanus cajan is commonly known as arhar or red gram in the country. It is a crop of the semi-arid tropics and the genebank of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), Hyderabad, has more than 10,000 samples of pigeon peas. In Puerto Rico, pigeon pea is known as gandul. Similarly, in other tropical regions, it is known by different names.
There are several instances of the use of pigeon pea extracts in traditional medicines in India and elsewhere. A recent study of plant medicines by researchers in the department of pharmacology at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims) tested pigeon pea extracts as they are used to treat diabetes in Ayurvedic medicines. In 1997, the Botany Club of the University of Guyana in its newsletter had highlighted the nutritional value of pigeon pea and medicinal values ranging from cures of flu to diabetes. Researches conducted in 1995 in the University of Philippines and suggested it as a remedy for diabetes and hyperlipidaemics.
In the patent applications, Insmed dishonestly acknowledges only a handful of uses of pigeon peas in traditional medicines. Even so, it confesses the existence of published journal articles in 1957 and 1968 that describe the effects of pigeon pea and its extracts on blood sugar. Insmed claims novelty in describing a purified plant extract whose dosage is easily measurable — but that narrow claim contrasts with the wide reach of the patent they sought and received.
Here is how the Progressive Review phrased the situation:
CORPORATION GETS PATENT FOR CURE HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD — Pigeon pea extract has been used for these ailments by indigenous tribes in semi-arid regions throughout the world for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. US Patents are recognized globally by the WTO, so technically, from henceforth, if any indigenous person uses that particular element of their traditional medicine, they have to pay Insmed Corporation first.
The patent application conveniently omits reference to traditional use of pigeon peas in treatment of diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
According to National Group on Patent Laws convenor BK Keayla, it is far too easy to trick the U.S. Patent Office and get patents rights on any so-called novelty.
Also see Patent Abuse is Defeated For Once! and
Granting this patent was clearly in violation of U.S. patent law section 102. But we have learned in recent years that patent officers are easy to trick, or easy to pressure, or easy to bribe. Science no longer plays much of a role in the awarding of patents; it seems to be more of a political arrangement. What’s your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report!