Proposes ‘commons licence' for traditional knowledge.

Vinson Kurian

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 12

The IPR policy of the Kerala Government released in 2008 may have prescribed the perfect antidote for a perceived glitch in the national Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) that lends itself to private appropriation by vested interests.

Codification of traditional knowledge (TK) in digital libraries and sharing the same with patent offices may be a viable solution to direct misappropriation, but it still leaves scope for cosmetic improvements on TK that is not accessible otherwise.

The proposal to enable codification of community-owned TK further compounds the issue, according to Mr R.S. Praveen Raj, a former examiner with India Patent Office and currently a scientist with the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST) here.

This amounts to gross injustice being perpetrated on those communities whose TK comes to be shared with patent offices.

The Kerala IPR policy squarely addresses this problem, Mr Raj said. The policy document proposes to commit all traditional knowledge, including traditional medicines, to the realm of “knowledge commons” and not to the public domain.

Knowledge commons refers to the knowledge which is the collectively produced sphere of ideas and which is left unencumbered for the greater benefit of all.

The ownership is attributable to the State/Crown, given the fact that TK is an accumulated traditional wealth and a preserve of its practitioners, tribal communities and families, all of whom act as deemed “trustees” of the State/Crown.

Hence, the intention of the proposed legislation is “not exactly the creation of rights on TK” but assigning some (not all) of the rights owned by the State to those deemed trustees in lieu of their willingness to put the TK to the realm of knowledge commons.

While the policy envisages proprietary rights on traditional knowledge, all the right holders will be deemed to be holding their rights under a “commons licence”, wherein the right holders will permit others the use of the knowledge in their possession for non-commercial purposes.

It is further stipulated that any development made using this knowledge licenced under the above obligation should be put back to the realm of knowledge commons, hence denying the scope of patenting thereof.

Though the policy envisages putting the developments made on TK back to the realm of knowledge commons, path-breaking inventions like development of a new drug molecule or the process thereof which involves substantial developmental costs need not form a part even if TK may form the basis of its origin, Mr Raj said.

The ultimate aim of the legislation is not to protect the financial interests of the TK holders but the benefit of the society at large, as is the case with the fundamental concept of patents. The Kerala IPR policy does not support extending “trade secret” protection to TK and the State has expressed itself against creation of monopoly over knowledge.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 13, 2010)
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