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Boston 2002 Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 00:22 GMT
Patent to protect ancient knowledge
Amazon jungle (BBC)
The library will record traditional treatments
Ryan, BBC

Indian researchers are aiming to bring ancient science and modern technology together to record traditional remedies for posterity.


We are trying to bring ancient wisdom and modern science together

Dr Ragunath Mashelkar
Scientific knowledge is often assumed to emerge from laboratories and universities, but Dr Ragunath Mashelkar, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Delhi, India, is establishing a digital library of the traditional knowledge developed by communities over centuries.

A quarter of a million dollars has been invested in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, which should be up and running by this June.

Dr Mashelkar, who spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Boston, told the BBC: "We are trying to bring ancient wisdom and modern science together."

Holistic approach

The library will record traditional treatments, and prevent them being patented as novel ideas when they have been known for generations.

In 1996, there was a furore in India after a patent was filed in the US on the wound-healing properties of turmeric, something which Indians had known for centuries.

A large part of the problem has been that patent offices have had no way of searching through this kind of traditional knowledge. The digital library will offer that facility.

The panel putting the library together includes experts in the holistic system of medicine from India known as Ayurveda. It also calls on people with a knowledge of intellectual property rights, as well as scholars who can take the large body of information published in Sanskrit or Hindi and translate it into English.

'Preserve and protect'

Scientists around the world would be able to make use of the library, and Dr Mashelkar predicts other countries, such as China, Indonesia and Latin America, could also set up similar databases.

In addition, the World Intellectual Property Organisation has set up a group involving the US, the European Union, Japan, China and India to look at reform of international patent classification.

The library will also lead to scientific investigation into the traditional remedies, including trials in animals and humans.

Dr Mashelkar said animal trials had already found a plant-based product cleared ulcers two to three times faster than the best selling drug in the world.

He said: "In real life, particularly in the developing world, there is a whole parallel knowledge system which is generated by people who have worked in the laboratory of life, based on their empirical wisdom and experience.

"There's a vast mass of that around. What we have to do is to preserve and protect it, and add value to it."


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