Fighting Biopirates in the Public Domain

article image
image by Tom McKeith /

The government of India recently finished a massive database that puts thousands of years’ worth of traditional Indian remedies, medicines, and practices in the public domain and, it is hoped, out of reach of Western biotech companies attempting to patent the information. This huge repository, known as the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (, contains details from more than 150,000 remedies from the natural healing systems of Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha–everything from basic principles and philosophy to specific regimens for personal health and wellness.

The Ecologist (April 2009) reports that the project employed 200 researchers, who spent eight years transcribing and translating the ancient texts, which are now available in English, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese. They’re also working to include yoga poses, which have come under patent attack by many Western yoga instructors as the practice has grown more popular. (Previous attempts at biopiracy included attempts to patent turmeric, basmati rice, and the neem tree.)

“India has effectively made its store of wisdom ‘public property,’ ” the Ecologist notes, and it “can now be access­ed and used by anyone, but patented by no one.”

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.