Developing nations are pleading with wealthier nations to participate in the rewards of scientific discoveries based on their abundant biodiversity more frequently. Research organizations and large firms frequently draw inspiration from nature for their products, whether they are genetically modified crops, drugs, or other goods.
However, in a practice that goes by the colorful name of “biopiracy,” discoveries based on conventional Indigenous knowledge or the rich biodiversity of poor nations may wind up being exported and copyrighted without due acknowledgment or pay.
The custom has historical roots. Colonizers like Spain, the United Kingdom, and other worldwide empires frequently took advantage of the natural riches of the areas they conquered and profited from doing so by trading goods.
Today, affluent countries frequently use the natural resources of developing countries for economic, agricultural, and medical purposes. A World Trade Organization agreement that addresses the intellectual property rights of different species of plants and animals is one example of a protection that has been in place for decades, although it isn’t always successful.
This was the situation in the ten-year battle against a patent issued to a US multinational on a fungicidal product derived from the neem tree, whose use has long been a part of conventional Indian farming knowledge. The Indian government finally prevailed in the dispute.
What is Biopiracy?
When indigenous knowledge of nature, which originated with indigenous people, is used by others for profit without the consent of, little or no recompense for, or recognition of, the indigenous people themselves.
In order to get patents on the technologies made possible by those genetic resources, developed countries are abusing indigenous populations’ traditional wisdom and the genetic resources of developing nations. Biopiracy results from this.
When genetic resources and traditional knowledge are unfairly subjected to patent protection, biopiracy takes place.
The infringement of genetic material, particularly that of plants and other biological materials, through the use of a patent is known as biopiracy.
Types of Biopiracy
Biopiracy comes in two different forms.
Illegal Form :
This is characterized by behaviors that go against the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) guiding principles and/or by the CBD’s incorporation into national legislation. The CBD demands a fair and equal division of any benefits accruing from the use of resources or related traditional knowledge, and it entrusts each nation with the management of its genetic resources. Any individual or institution intending to access genetic materials must obtain Prior Informed Consent (PIC) from the owner in order to ensure such sharing. Additionally, any benefits accruing from the use of these resources or associated traditional knowledge must be distributed among the participants fairly and equally, a practice is known as access and benefit sharing (ABS). Biopiracy is a violation of these regulations.
Legal Form :
This has to do with the ownership of intellectual property. In reality, many non-governmental organizations view the mere application of traditional knowledge or the request for a plant patent as biopiracy when neither of these actions constitutes an innovative or original effort. The industry seizes the inherent qualities of genetic resources or traditional knowledge from the countries using such patents. In these situations, it is the aggrieved parties’ responsibility to prove their case because they frequently lack the resources and legal expertise necessary to start a process for the re-examination of the patent.
Dangers from Biopiracy
- Whereby information and/or genetic resources from one area, group, or country are taken or claimed as one’s own.
- That it may be difficult to use this information or genetic resource where it originated or for what it was intended to be used in the past.
- The exploitation of the patent by the patent holder for personal gain.
- That an established system somewhere in the world will undoubtedly be disrupted by the patent that was fraudulently asserted and unfairly granted.
A recent occurrence of biopiracy
Neem Patent :
An item made from Neem tree seeds that is fungicidal has received a patent from the US Patent Office. The Neem tree’s fungicidal capabilities, according to India, have been well known in that country for many decades, thus they used that information to fight the patent. The oil from neem has long been used by farmers to combat fungus. It was neither a fresh concept nor particularly inventive. The European Patent Office ultimately canceled the Patent.
Haldi Patent :
The University Of Mississippi Medical Center in Mississippi submitted a patent application in December 1993. For using turmeric powder as a wound-healing agent, applicants were granted US patent 5,401,504. The patent drew criticism from the Indian government. Given that the mentioned turmeric has properties that are listed in historical medical texts, the turmeric patent did not meet the standards for innovation.
Basmati Patent :
A form of rice created by fusing an American variety with an Indian strain of basmati rice was given a patent by Rice Tec (US Co.) (US 5663484). The patent asserted ownership over any basmati-style rice grown in the Western Hemisphere. Additionally, it asserted rights to any future variants created by crossing the new type with Asian varieties already in existence. The farmers contended that the name “basmati” should not be used by an American rice grower. India receives over $800 million in export revenue from basmati rice each year. Large portions of the RiceTec Basmati patent were invalidated by the USPTO as a result of a global citizen effort against the patents.
Yoga Patent :
Bikram Choudhary, an NRI living in the US, has claimed copyright for his yoga instruction style. He also put up a patent application for yoga. The movement of yoga practitioners and gurus is inappropriate because yoga is a universal practice. According to USPTO, 2,315 yoga trademarks, 134 trademarks for yoga accessories, and 150 yoga-related copyrights have all been granted. India is planning to challenge patents and has taken a firm stance against the USPTO’s grant of copyrights and patents to yoga poses.
Wheat Patent :
Under the broad heading “plants”, MONSANTO was given a patent (EP 0445929 B1) on the Indian strain of wheat known as “Nap Hal”. Greenpeace, Bharat Krishak Samaj, and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology (RFSTE) submitted a petition on January 27, 2004, opposing the patent rights. As a result, the patent was canceled in October 2004.
Colgate Case :
Colgate was charged with stealing an ancient Indian toothpaste formula. For the tooth powder formulation containing rust-like red iron oxide, clove oil, camphor, black pepper, and spearmint, Colgate received a US patent. For allegedly copying and patenting a 1,000-year-old traditional toothpaste recipe, Indian activists are charging Colgate with “biopiracy”. Every component is ancient, including the mixture. The typical Indian male has been using them for a very long time. There are already 34 million web pages being built in India to prove that the substances were well-known in the field.
Unjust, unethical, and endangering indigenous cultures’ ability to exist.
Companies that use indigenous tribes’ genetic resources to create products and hold patents on such products.
Indigenous communities are forbidden from using or exporting the traditional knowledge they have accumulated and the biological resources they have access to. ultimately results in the extinction of conventional knowledge.
A private bill has recently been introduced in India; if passed, it will be called the Protection of Indian Traditional Knowledge Act 2016. The bill makes the Central and State Governments the caretakers of all traditional knowledge in India and outlines the qualities of traditional knowledge and what it comprises. The conflict over turmeric highlights the urgent necessity to safeguard traditional knowledge and the inadequateness of the legislation enacted to do so.
Working groups associated with the Convention on Biodiversity and the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, and Folklore of the World Intellectual Property Organization are primarily responsible for attempting to better adapt the patent system to traditional knowledge.