Open the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library
This post is in furtherance of Vini’s post, which throws light into the third party reference provided by CSIR to a patent involving Melon extract. Vini’s post briefly explains the background of TKDL and I dont wish to delve into it in my post. I would like to bring a few issues with respect to TKDL to your notice and solicit your opinion with respect to an open source model I am trying to develop for TKDL.
Dr. Mukherjee from CSIR was a speaker at one of the seminars I had attended at IITB. He is one of the key members in the TKDL project and gave an excellent overview of TKDL (Traditional Knowledge Digital Library), process followed by CSIR with respect to digitization of traditional knowledge and the method of classification in the database. After the talk, one of the speakers asked if TKDL will be made available to Indian scientists. In response, Dr. Mukherjee stated that they are considering the issue and may make it accessible to Indian scientists for limited purposes. He went on to state that the primary purpose of TKDL is to prevent misuse of traditional knowledge and that they have been successful in doing that in some cases such as turmeric, neem, melon and so on by filing patent opposition or revocation proceedings and indicated that open access to TKDL may not be a possibility.
It seems to me that CSIR either forgot the objective of creating TKDL or had always been having a very narrow perspective about its utility. As a student, I had the opportunity of attending a lecture of Dr. Gupta at Pierce Law in which he explained the value of TKDL to be beyond preventing patent protection. As explained by Dr. Gupta, most of us believe that the primary role of TKDL is to capture India’s traditional knowledge for purposes of its preservation and development. If that is the primary goal, opposing and revoking patent applications or patents is just one of its by products. Considering that the primary objective of TKDL is to preserve and develop traditional knowledge, making TKDL publicly available would further its objective in the most optimal manner because it will enable access to India’s traditional knowledge to the entire world, who may work on it and develop over it. It will also prevent duplicative efforts of scientists and will facilitate collaborative research. In the light of our culture, I believe that open development would be the best possible approach.
Some may argue that making TKDL available may hurt the interests of traditional knowledge holders, who have been preserving it by depriving them the benefits of commercialization of such development. I would like to argue that appropriate laws and regulation can ensure benefits to traditional knowledge holders. The proposed Traditional Knowledge law in India can incorporate provisions to safeguard their interests in a stronger manner than under the Biodiversity Act.
I think the Indian Government and CSIR must open their eyes and make TKDL accessible to the world at large rather than limiting it to US Patent office or European Patent Office. The value of TKDL must be more than preventing or revoking patent protection. Furthermore, Numerous patents get rejected based on prior art and if a patent is rejected based on prior art in TKDL, it does not always mean that some one tried to surrepticiously get a patent that is India’s knowledge, it just means that there is a prior art against grant of a patent over an invention, which resulted in its rejection or revocation. It must be noted that numerous patents get rejected based on prior art references from multiple sources on a daily basis.
In the light of the issues concerning traditional knowledge, I believe that the open source model would be most suitable for TKDL.Making TKDL available under an open source model that enables its usage, ensures attribution and sharing of benefits, would go a long way in its development and safeguarding the interests of the communities preserving it. As courts across the world have been increasingly holding that open source licenses are legally valid and enforceable, the model will enable development while preserving the rights of traditional knowledge holders. As I work on developing a comprehensive open source model for TKDL, any comments on issues to be considered are welcome.