US Firm Bags Patent On Arhar Extracts

Ashok B Sharma
US Firm Bags Patent On Arhar Extracts
Tue Sep 2 18:06:52 2003

WTO Cancun Meet + Patent On Indigenous Knowledge

US Firm Bags Patent On Arhar Extracts

Ashok B Sharma
New Delhi, Aug 3

The US patent and trademark office (USPTO) has granted patent rights on traditional knowledge of the usage of pigeon pea extracts and ngali nut oil for treating several diseases.

The USPTO has granted three patent rights (nos. 6,410,596; 6,541,522 and 6,542,511) to the $109-million bio-pharmaceutical company Insmed Inc, based in Richmond in Virginia, for its `novel invention of pigeon pea extracts' for treating diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity and artherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (clogged arteries).

It has also awarded patent rights (no. 6,395,313) to Australian entreprenuer Queenslander Peter Hull for using ngali nut oil for treating arthritis. Ngali nut trees are grown on the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Phillipines; and one of its variety canarium indicium is grown in Sri Lanka and South India.

Pigeon pea with its botanical name cajanus cajan is commonly known as `arhar' or red gram in the country. It is a crop of the semi-arid tropics and the genebank of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), Hyderabad, has more than 10,000 samples of pigeon peas. In Puerto Rico, pigeon pea is known as `gandul' or `arroz con gandules'. Similarly, in other tropical countries, it is known by different names.

There are several instances of the use of pigeon pea extracts in traditional medicines in the country. A recent study of plant medicines by researchers in the department of pharmacology at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims) tested pigeon pea extracts as they are used to treat diabetes in Ayurvedic medicines. In 1997, the Botany Club of the University of Guyana in its newsletter had highlighted the nutritional value of pigeon pea and medicinal values ranging from cures of flu to diabetes. Researches conducted in 1995 in the University of Philippines and suggested it as a remedy for diabetes and hyperlipidaemics.

In the patent applications, Insmed acknowledges only a handful of uses of pigeon peas in traditional medicines and refers to 1957 and 1968 journal articles that describe the effects of pigeon pea and its extracts on blood sugar. Insmed claims novelty in describing "a purified plant extract whose dosage is easily measurable."

According to Insmed, the pigeon pea extracts by means of traditional process "contain a myriad of naturally-occurring organic compounds" that may interfere with medicinal effects. That impurity, the company says, "can result in an effective amount, i.e. too low a concentration, or a toxic amount, too high a concentration, of active compound administered." The patent application skirts reference to traditional use of pigeon peas in treatment of diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

The scientists at the Indian Council of Industrial Research say if the patent rights infringes upon the country's traditional knowledge, it should be challenged. They also say there is a need to document the evidences available in traditional texts about the use of pigeon pea extracts and ngali oil and that the Aiims, which has already conducted a study, should come out with more clear evidences.

According to National Group on Patent Laws convenor BK Keayla, it is very easy to get patents rights on any so-called novelty. "We must gather strong evidences from our traditional texts to challenge such patent rights."
A Bumpy Road To Cancun : Problems Still Remain

Ashok B Sharma

The three-day Montreal mini-ministerial meet of 25 WTO member countries ended on July 30 without resolving any of the contentious issues. This was expected.

The only outcome of the Montreal mini-ministerial meet was that the positions of some countries were made clear.

That the Montreal mini-ministerial meet would fail to resolve contentious issues was clear from the Cancun proposals drafted by the chairman of the WTO General Council, Carlos Perez del Castilo and the WTO irector-general, Dr Supachai Pantichpakdi and circulated on July 18. However, as the mini-ministerial meet was only of select countries and as the recordings of this meeting are not likely to find place in the official agenda of the Cancun meet beginning from September 10, this year, the failure of the Montreal meet does not pose much a problem.

The road to Cancun yet remains bumpy. Fews days are left and much needs to be done if Cancun meet is to be a success.

The contentious issues of reduction of tariff barriers and subsidies remained unresolved at the Montreal meet. Members remained divided and rigid in their stand not only over farm subsidies but also over how to reduce barriers to global trade in agricultural products. Exporting countries like US, Australia and Brazil demanded big cuts in farm subsidies and import tariffs, while importers like the European Union and Japan did not yeild to big cuts arguing that they still need protect their domestic producers. The EU mentioned that it has already made a commitment in its new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to reduce its subsidies by 60 per cent and it cannot go beyond that.

However, there was a signal for a trade off between US and the European Union. Both agreed to talk privately on these issue. This raises a question of what sort of deal would these two major trading blocs strike before the Cancun meet. The EU trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy's comment at the end of the Montreal meet needs to be noted - "my sense is that defrosting is happening, but we are not yet at the sort of global-warming drive that will be needed."

What type of defrosting does Pascal Lamy wants? The Indian Minister for communications, IT and disinvestment, Arun Shourie who represented at the Montreal meet has demanded that the EU-US negotiations should be made transparent. The Indian minister is right in saying so as lot depends upon this EU-US negotiations.

There is already a dispute between the EU and US over the former lifting its `moratorium' on genetically modified (GM) foods. The US here is supported by Canada and Australia. The European Parliament, partially succumbing to US pressure, has passed news laws opening the way for GM foods in Europe as long as they are clearly labelled. The new laws state that foods containing more than 0.9 per cent of GM materials should be labelled. Earlier EU was insisting on labelling of food products containing more than 0.5 per cent of GM materials. EU have introduced traceability and meat has also been brought under traceability. But this move by EU of allowing GM foods with labels has not been appreciated by the US which feels that this is a form of protectionism in trade.

It is to be seen how the EU and the US are going to resolve the issues of subsidies, tariff bariers and GM food.

A significant development at the Montreal meet was India and China coming closer to protect the interests of the developing countries. They agreed that to share common views on market access in agriculture, TRIPS and public health and four Singapore issues on investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation. On the contentious issues raised at Singapore, China concurred with India's view that in keeping with the Doha mandate there should be agreement first on modalities on basis of explicit consensus before entering into negotiations.

It is to be seen as to whether these two countries can jointly keep up their commitments to the developing world despite the recent tensions in the Sino-Indian border. It is also to be seen how much support from the developing world would India and China be able to carry with them, in face of the fact that there are a large number of net-food importing countries who would like subsidies to continue in the developed world as they get cheap foods. If only a strong axis of the developed countries can be formed by China and India, then Mr Arun Shourie's threat of a `backlash' can really work.

Main Page - Wednesday, 09/03/03

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