Plust friction

Published: Monday 15 September 2003

In spite of there being several instances of the use of arhar (pigeon pea or Cajanus cajan ) extracts in India, the us Patent and Trademark Office (uspto) has granted three patents on novel invention of the same to Insmed Incorporation of Richmond, Virginia. The patents have been given with regard to the extracts' potential to treat diabetes, hypoglycaemia (lowering of sugar level in the blood), obesity and the cardiovascular condition of blockage in arteries.

Scientists at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research have stated that if the patent infringes on the traditional knowledge of India, it ought to be challenged. They dispute the "novelty" aspect, one of the four criteria for granting of a patent in the us (the other three being "usefulness", "unobviousness" and "full disclosure").

In its patent application, Insmed describes very few of the known uses of pigeon pea in traditional medicine systems. It also avoids references to traditional uses of the pulse in treatment of the diseases mentioned above. The problem is that every time such a patent is granted, it has to be challenged individually. And documented evidence of traditional knowledge of its use has to be presented. India's scientific documentation of its traditional knowledge is quite poor.

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