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Preserving Traditional Knowledge: Safeguarding Biodiversity



  Aug 10, 2023

Protection of Traditional Knowledge:Biodiversity Protection,Geographical Indications and Benefit Sharing


Traditional Knowledge (TK) refers to the knowledge, practices, innovations, and cultural expressions developed and maintained by communities over time. It is often closely linked to their cultural, spiritual, and social identity and plays a vital role in their livelihoods and well-being.Some of it is codified.
 
Codified traditional knowledge refers to traditional knowledge that has been systematically organized and recorded in a structured manner. In the field of traditional medicine, there are two types of codified traditional knowledge:
 
Codified Systems: These are traditional medicine systems that have been written down in ancient scriptures and are available to the public. Examples include Ayurveda, which has been codified in 54 authoritative books, the Siddha system with 29 authoritative books, and the Unani Tibb tradition with 13 authoritative books.
 
Non-Codified Knowledge: This type of traditional medicinal knowledge has not been written down and is transmitted orally from one generation to another. Traditional knowledge holders keep this knowledge within their communities and do not disclose it publicly.
 

Biopiracy and Protection of Traditional Knowledge

 
Biopiracy is a term used to describe the unethical appropriation or exploitation of genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and technologies from developing countries by corporations or entities in the developed world. It involves the unauthorized use of these resources for commercial gain without providing fair and equitable benefits to the communities that have preserved and nurtured them for generations.
 
An example of biopiracy is the case of neem and amla in India. Neem is a tree known for its various medicinal properties, and amla (Indian gooseberry) has significant nutritional and therapeutic value. Both have been traditionally used in Ayurvedic and other indigenous systems of medicine in India for centuries.
 
In the past, some companies from developed countries have patented products or processes derived from neem and amla without proper recognition or compensation to the communities that have conserved and transmitted the knowledge of their uses. This kind of biopiracy raises concerns about the protection of traditional knowledge, biodiversity, and the rights of indigenous and local communities.
 
In the past, some companies from developed countries have patented products or processes derived from neem and amla without proper recognition or compensation to the communities that have conserved and transmitted the knowledge of their uses. This kind of biopiracy raises concerns about the protection of traditional knowledge, biodiversity, and the rights of indigenous and local communities.
 
To address biopiracy and protect traditional knowledge, several measures have been taken at both national and international levels. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international treaty that recognizes the sovereign rights of countries over their genetic resources and calls for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety regulates the international movements of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology between countries(2003). It is a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits ensures a clear and fair framework for sharing the benefits that come from using genetic resources. It is another supplementary agreement to the CBD(2014)
 
India has also enacted domestic laws, such as the Biodiversity Act and the Geographical Indications Act, to safeguard their traditional knowledge and genetic resources and ensure their equitable use and benefit-sharing.
 
The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) is a digital repository of traditional medicinal knowledge available in the public domain. It aims to protect India's ancient and traditional knowledge from exploitation through bio-piracy and unethical patents. It provides access to traditional medicinal formulations in patent-compatible formats to international patent offices. The TKDL has resulted in the withdrawal or revocation of several cases of misappropriation of traditional knowledge in patent offices of various countries, including the European Patent Office (EPO), US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and others.
 
Efforts are ongoing to raise awareness, strengthen legal frameworks, and promote ethical research and business practices to prevent biopiracy and uphold the rights of indigenous and local communities over their traditional knowledge and genetic resources.
 

Biological Diversity Act, 2002

The Biological Diversity Act, 2002, was passed to regulate access to biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. It established a three-tier structure for regulation, including the National Biodiversity Authority at the national level, state biodiversity boards at the state level, and biodiversity management committees at the local body level. The Act aimed to ensure conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological resources.
 
The People's Biodiversity Registers (PBRs) are prepared through Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at the local level. They cover a wide variety of traditional knowledge, including traditional medicines, and are implemented in various states across India.
 
The Biodiversity Act not only safeguards traditional knowledge but also protects geographical indications((GI)). Geographical indications refer to products that originate from a specific geographical area and possess unique qualities, reputation, or characteristics due to their geographical origin. The Act ensures that the use of traditional knowledge and genetic resources in the production of such products is done with prior permission and ensures fair and equitable sharing of benefits with the local communities.By ensuring that prior permission is obtained for access to traditional knowledge and genetic resources, the Biodiversity Act prevents unauthorized use and exploitation of traditional knowledge and GI in the global market. This safeguard ensures that the originators and local communities are recognized and fairly compensated for their knowledge and unique products.
 
Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) not only safeguards traditional knowledge from unethical patents but also plays a role in protecting geographical indications. It provides access to information on traditional knowledge and GI-related data to international patent offices, enabling examiners to conduct prior art searches to prevent the grant of patents on already existing knowledge and GI products.
 

National IPR Policy of 2016 and the protection of traditional knowledge

The National IPR Policy calls for expanding the scope of TKDL beyond Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, and Siddha to include other fields. It also suggests allowing public research institutions access to TKDL for further research and exploring the possibility of private sector use, provided safeguards against misappropriation are in place. The policy emphasizes documenting oral traditional knowledge while preserving the integrity of such knowledge and supporting the knowledge holders for the preservation of traditional knowledge systems. It also advocates allowing public research institutions access to TKDL for further research, while exploring the possibility of private sector use with necessary safeguards to prevent misappropriation. The policy aims to protect traditional knowledge from unauthorized access and misuse while promoting India's rich heritage of traditional knowledge.
 
The Geographical Indications (GI) Act protects traditional knowledge and local communities by providing legal recognition and protection to products with geographical indications. It prevents unauthorized use of GI and helps maintain the distinct identity and reputation of products associated with specific regions or communities. This recognition fosters economic development for local producers and safeguards against misappropriation of traditional knowledge.
 
Can traditional knowledge and GI be patented? No, traditional knowledge and geographical indications cannot be patented. The purpose of protecting traditional knowledge and GI is to prevent their unauthorized use and ensure that the knowledge remains accessible to the communities and regions from which they originate. Patents are granted for novel and non-obvious inventions, while traditional knowledge and GI are considered part of the collective heritage of specific communities or geographical areas.
 
How does the protection of traditional knowledge and GI contribute to sustainable development? Protecting traditional knowledge and GI ensures the preservation of cultural heritage and biodiversity. By safeguarding the knowledge and products associated with specific regions and communities, it encourages sustainable practices and economic development at the local level. Additionally, it fosters a sense of identity and pride among the communities involved and promotes the conservation of biodiversity and unique traditional practices.
 

Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022

 

1. What is the Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022?

The Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022 refers to the changes made to the existing Biodiversity Act of 2002 in India. The amendment aims to modify and update the original Act to address various aspects related to conservation of biodiversity, sustainable utilization of biological resources, and equitable distribution of benefits arising from their use.
 

2. When was the Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022 enacted?

The exact date of enactment may vary, but the Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022 was introduced to amend the Biodiversity Act of 2002 in India.
 

3. What are the main objectives of the Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022?

The main objectives of the Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022 include the conservation of biodiversity, promotion of sustainable use of biological resources, and ensuring fair and just distribution of benefits resulting from the utilization of these resources.
 

4. What changes does the amendment introduce?

The amendment introduces several changes to the Biodiversity Act. It encourages the Indian system of medicine, streamlines the research and patent application process, and decriminalizes various offences previously under the Act.
 

5. Who benefits from the Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022?

The amendment benefits various stakeholders, including practitioners of traditional Indian medicine (AYUSH), local communities, and growers and cultivators of biodiversity. It aims to provide easier access to biological resources for commercial use and exempts certain groups from prior intimation requirements.
 

6. What is the impact on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)?

Under the original Act, approval from the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) was required before applying for IPR related to biological resources obtained from India. The amendment modifies this requirement, now necessitating approval before the actual grant of IPR, not just before the application.
 

7. How are penalties affected by the amendment?

The amendment alters the penalties associated with offences under the Act. Previously, certain offences carried imprisonment or fines. The amendment reduces the penalties to monetary fines, ranging from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 50 lakh. If the damage caused exceeds the penalty amount, the penalty will match the extent of the damage.
 

8. What about the sharing of benefits with local communities?

? The original Act required users of biological resources and associated knowledge to share benefits with local communities. The amendment introduces a provision that exempts users of "codified traditional knowledge" from this requirement. However, the term "codified traditional knowledge" is not clearly defined in the amendment, leading to ambiguity.
 

9. Why was the Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022 introduced?

The amendment was introduced to address various gaps and issues within the existing Biodiversity Act of 2002. It aims to align the Act with current needs and practices related to biodiversity conservation, sustainable utilization of resources, and equitable sharing of benefits.
 

10. How will the Biodiversity Act Amendment 2022 impact research and development?

The amendment is intended to facilitate faster research and patent application processes. It encourages innovation in traditional Indian medicine and seeks to streamline procedures to promote research and development activities in the field of biodiversity conservation and utilization.


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