Traditional Knowledge

A collaboration – between the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (Dept. of AYUSH), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India.

There is considerable unexplored potential for developing, promoting and utilizing traditional knowledge, which is a unique endowment of India. Create a sui generis system for protection of traditional knowledge which will safeguard misappropriation of traditional knowledge as well as promote further research and development in products and services based on traditional knowledge.

The creation of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) has been a major achievement for India which has a vast pool of traditional knowledge. India has been able to thwart attempts to misappropriate its traditional knowledge. The next challenge is to use India’s strength in traditional knowledge for its effective promotion, development and utilization.

It manages a database of knowledge that exists in various local languages such as Sanskrit, Urdu, Arabic, Persian and Tamil. TKDL has also converted the database into five international languages in patent application formats.

So far, over 2 lakh medicinal formulations have been transcribed and the database is present in 30 million A4-size pages.


It has been observed that in the past years patents have been wrongly granted to traditional knowledge related inventions which do not fulfill the requirement of novelty and inventive step, particularly due to existence of relevant prior art. For instance, this has happened in the case of Turmeric, Neem, Basmati etc.

The practical obstacle underlying the issue was that patent examiners could not search relevant traditional knowledge as prior art, because they did not have access to traditional knowledge information in their classified non-patent literature. The reasons for this non-accessibility were that the Indian traditional knowledge exists in local languages such as Sanskrit, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Tamil, etc. which either was not available or not understood by patent examiners. TKDL breaks the language and format barrier and makes available this information in English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese in patent application format, which is easily understandable by patent examiners. TKDL is thus a tool providing defensive protection to the rich traditional knowledge of India

A research council of AYUSH ministry has been implementing a Tribal Health Care Research Programme (THCRP) which aims at collecting information on folk medicines / traditional practices prevalent in different parts of the country besides extending health care services to tribal population.


Some success stories of TKDL –

India Foils Colgate-Palmolive Bid to Patent Nutmeg Mouthwash

In 2010, a Patent application was filed by Colgate-Palmolive Company titled “Oral compositions containing extracts of myristica fragrans and related methods”. The company claimed an oral composition comprising a combination of extracts including an extract from Myristica fragrans and a natural extract other than the extract from Myristica fragrans.

The prime issue with this application by Colgate-Palmolive is that Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) has been traditionally used in the Indian system of medicines and is used almost every single day by an average Indian, especially those residing in the country side. The Patent application by Colgate-Palmolive itself describes that Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) is known as a headache cure and a gastrointestinal drug in the Indian ancient Ayurveda, and has been used in the treatment of dyspepsia, bellyache, diarrhea and vomiting in the traditional Chinese medicine. Myristica fragrans has reportedly been used as a fruit paste and applied to teeth. An important claim of this application is “A composition according to any preceding claim, wherein the composition is a dentifrice in a form selected from the group consisting of: powder; toothpaste or dental gel; a periodontal gel; a liquid suitable for painting a dental surface; a chewing gum; a dissolvable, partially dissolvable or non-dissolvable film or strip; a bead, a wafer; a wipe or towelette; an implant; a mouthrinse, a foam, and dental floss.”

CSIR-TKDL submitted proof in the form of references from an ancient book, which said that the herb and its extracts were used for oral diseases in Indian systems of medicine. In addition, other third party observations also made submissions against the claims and the Patent application was shot down. The status of the application EP2689806 now stands cancelled.



India wins Patent war on hair loss formula

Pangaea Laboratories Limited, a UK based company had filed a Patent application in February, 2011 titled “Hair building solid agent” (EP2361602). On a close reading of the application, they come across two important pieces of information viz, the description section of the application which reads:

“The hair building solid spray agent may include one or more pharmacologically active ingredient for treating one or more of hair loss, thinning hair and skin conditions.

The pharmacologically active ingredient may be one or more of finasteride, dutasteride, spironolactone, minoxidil, nitric oxide donators, Beta-glucan, saw palmetto, resveratrol, curcumin, marine extracts, polycyanidins, superoxide dismutase, superoxide dismutase mimetics, taurine, plant sterols, pine bark extract, melatonin, green tea, caffeine, copper peptides, copper PCA, EUK-134, copper(II) 3,5-dispropylsalicylate, dimethoxy chromanol, catalase, catalase mimetics and hydrolysed lupine protein.”

As can be observed from a reading of the paragraph, there is clearly a mention of use of curcumin, pine bark and green tea among others as a pharmacologically active ingredient in the preparation of the hair loss formula.

Thus CSIR filed an objection to the application by providing the EPO with evidence from the TKDL citing the traditionla use of curcumin, pine bark and green tea in the treatment of hair loss. The third party observations submitted by CSIR can be accessed here.

Based on India’s evidence, the Patent application was finally “deemed to be withdrawn” by the applicant on 29 June 2015.


“Over 1500 yoga asanas shortlisted to thwart patenting by foreign parties

Another news piece making rounds these days is that TKDL is in the process of documenting over 1500 yoga postures in order to stop patenting of these postures by foreign parties. TKDL is said to believe that as many as 2,000 applications were being made internationally every year for patents on Indian systems of medicine including yoga postures, which was nothing but misappropriation of traditional Indian knowledge. But with India providing evidence to the contrary, Patent applications have had to be withdrawn in countries as varied as USA, Japan, UK, Italy, Germany, Australia, China, Cyprus, Kenya, Spain, South Korea, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

It is estimated that up to 300 million people practice yoga across the globe, with the US being the world’s largest yoga industry worth over $27 billion. Yet more than half of global yoga enthusiasts are Indians, in a country that until now lacked any organizational approach to the $80bn global industry. Lacking brand names, yoga training in India is mainly run through small independent businesses.

News sources indicate that a mind-boggling 249 patents were taken on yoga in 2004 and 2,300 in 2005 at various international Patent offices, thus implying the urgent need to incorporate these yoga aasanas into TKDL.

The above three instances are only some of the success stories of TKDL. As published by the Press Information Bureau of India, CSIR-TKDL unit till date has achieved success in about 200 cases and more, like the ones listed here, without any cost.

Besides major companies like Colgate-Palmolive and Pangaea, the other big players who have been hit by the TKDL include Nestle, L’Oreal, Avasthagen, Ranbaxy, BASF and Unilever.