India blocks Colgate patents for spices
MNC had filed two claims with European authority
One patent battle took almost seven years, after the New York-based company filed a claim at the European Patent Register on September 29, 2008, for a composition containing botanical extracts from three herbs, including cinnamon, a common kitchen spice across India, known here as “dalchini”.
India opposed the claim using the traditional knowledge digital library (TKDL) database, created in the last decade to fight biopiracy.
The database, maintained by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), submitted its plea in May 2011, and the European patent office ruled in India’s favour last month.
Two years after filing the first patent claim, Colgate-Palmolive moved another application in 2010 before the European patent office, seeking protection for another oral composition containing nutmeg, ginger, “Bakul” tree, camphor, cinnamon, turmeric, Indian banyan, black pepper, long pepper, Neem and clove. The solution is for treating oral cavity diseases.
This, too, was challenged in June 2014 by TKDL, which showed to the patent examiner there was no novelty in the Colgate claims as ancient Indian texts mention use of extracts from these plants for the same disorders. The claim was rejected this March.
“We identified about 1,500 cases of biopiracy, out of which about 200 have been checked by patent examiners. We won about 180 out of these 200 cases. There are another 1,300-odd cases to be fought,” V K Gupta, former director of the TKDL group in CSIR, told Deccan Herald.
The first case against Colgate was initiated during his tenure.
The digital database, containing Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha formulations, and known medicinal properties of Indian herbs, was created following India’s successful IPR battles on haldi (turmeric), neem and Basmati rice.
The Union Commerce Ministry spent Rs 7.61 crore in 2000 as legal fee to reverse a patent examiner’s decision on basmati rice. “Going by that standard, the TKDL has saved upwards of Rs 500 crore so far, and more to come. In the next step, the government should not only add many more ancient books to the TKDL database but also incorporate knowledge from manuscripts,” said Gupta, who retired in 2013.
Besides Colgate, the other big players who bit the TKDL bullets are Nestle, L’Oreal, Avasthagen, Ranbaxy and Unilever.