Protecting the nation's patents

V K GUPTA , director, National Institute of Science Communication (NISCOM), tells VIBHA VARSHNEY how they set about building the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL). Gupta is hopeful that TKDL will vastly reduce recurrence of patent fiascos of the neem and turmeric variety

Published: Thursday 31 October 2002

What is the traditional knowledge digital library (TKDL)?
The tkdl essentially consists of information from 35,000 shlokas (verses) and formulations in 14 commonly available books on ayurveda, like Sarangadhara samhita and Bharat bhaisajya ratnakar. tkdl would have information on the medicines, the botanical and common names of the plants used, what drug cures which disease and the quantities in which various constituents are used to prepare a medicine. This information will be accessible in different languages, such as Japanese, French, Spanish and German.

But why TKDL?
We have been contesting patents that are wrongly granted because the patent officer does not know about our traditional knowledge. If tkdl is put up on the Internet and is available in compact disc (cd) format, patent officers around the world would have a ready reference. After our experience fighting patents granted to neem and turmeric, the department of Indian systems of medicine, ministry of health and family welfare, constituted an inter-disciplinary task force for preparing a report on establishing a digital library of traditional knowledge.

A study of the us Patent and Trademark Office database in March 2000 revealed that 80 per cent of the 4,897 references on 90 medicinal plants consisted of seven medicinal plants of Indian origin. This, really, was the trigger for tkdl. The project has received support from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (wipo), and we hope that it will be obligatory on the part of patent examiners around the world to establish that the patent application is not part of Indian traditional knowledge.

What went into making the software?
The tkdl software has been developed using Unicode and meta data technology, with the help of tools such sql, Java and Visual Basic. It is based on xml standards. A team of ayurvedic experts breaks the shlokas into a special code, traditional knowledge resource classification (tkrc), which has been developed towards this end. The software then translates the code into text that can be understood by the patent officer.

The tkdl software has been based on the international patent classification. This makes it especially accessible to patent officers, who might be looking for information on the plants used or the method of preparation. The library will have both static and dynamic components. Ayurvedic concepts and definitions constitute the static components of the database, while the dynamic components include information on ayurvedic formulations. This will be regularly updated. The portal is designed to be interactive. There is a query window, where you can search for keywords. The software will then search through the database. Once the search is complete, the software will then translate the information to the language required by the interface user. The portal will also have secured access, digital watermarking and digital delivery.

How do you ensure accuracy of translation from the original text?
See, the prior knowledge is the Sanskrit shloka, not the translation. The shloka itself is available on the website. Therefore, on the off-chance a wrong patent is granted because of incomplete information, we can still contest it in court. Of course, we try our best to ensure that complete information is incorporated. Qualified ayurveda experts are the ones who code the information initially. Eminent ayurvedic experts crosscheck the information so generated.

What other advantages do you see?
The project cost is rather low -- around Rs 12 million. For example, if one page needs to be translated from the Sanskrit, the cost would be about Rs 500. So, just translation cost for 140,000 pages into five languages works out to Rs 350 million. tkdl translates all this material into various languages at no extra cost.

What if the international community refuses to accept TKDL as a valid source of traditional knowledge?
Even in such an eventuality, the exercise of documentation will certainly help us when we are forced to contest cases where patents are wrongly given. Besides, the translation will be of value to persons interested in traditional knowledge.

Will access to the library be free?
Patent offices around the world will get the information for free. A decision on how the information will be provided to the common person will be taken at a later stage.

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