Wednesday, January 6, 2010

World at war over sharing of genetic resources

One might have already heard of the battles India has fought over Neem, Turmeric and Basmati but that is only one of a million examples of the war for access to genetic resources that the developing world is fighting. The agricultural and plant diversity of countries like India too has always made happy pickings for bio-prospectors -- specialists looking for rare species that contain some property worth commercializing. The pharmaceutical and biotech industry for one depends highly on the genetic resources that are found in higher density in the tropical and poorer countries than in the temperate and richer nations of the world. But when the pharma giant from the rich country gets hold of the specimen and turns it into a hot selling patented commodity -- say an anti-cancer drug -- it doesn't share a fair share of the millions it earns with the people who protected it in the first place. In many cases, these are the people who understand the medicinal or other special properties of the resource. Take the case of just the formalized traditional medicines in India. So far over two lakh formulations of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Yoga have been documented into the digital library. About 2,000 patents related to the Indian System of Medicine are granted every year in the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the European Patent Office (EPO) and other overseas patent offices. Evidently the battle lines between the rich and the developing countries are drawn as deep as in the climate talks but the roles have got reversed.

When it comes to their new clean technologies, the rich countries may be dead-set against easing intellectual property rights for poor countries but at the UN talks on bio-diversity they are fighting tooth and nail to make the IPR rules loose enough to commercialize the traditional knowledge of countries like India.

[1] The Times of India- Hyderabad - Times Nation , 05 Jan 2010, Page 7, Nitin Sethi / TNN

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