Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) is a pioneer initiative of India to prevent misappropriation of country’s traditional medicinal knowledge at International Patent Offices on which healthcare needs of more than 70% population and livelihood of millions of people in India is dependent. Its genesis dates back to the Indian effort on revocation of patent on wound healing properties of turmeric at the USPTO. Besides, in 2005, the TKDL expert group estimated that about 2000 wrong patents concerning Indian systems of medicine were being granted every year at international level, mainly due to the fact that India’s traditional medicinal knowledge which exists in local languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic, Urdu, Tamil etc. is neither accessible nor comprehensible for patent examiners at the international patent offices. TKDL technology integrates diverse disciplines and languages such as Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, Yoga, Sanskrit, Arabic, Urdu, Persian, Tamil, English, Japanese, Spanish, French, German, modern science & modern medicine. Till date, TKDL is based on 359 books of Indian Systems of Medicine, which are available at a cost of approx US$ 1000, in open domain and can be sourced by any individual/organization at national/international level. TKDL acts as a bridge between these books (Prior-art) and International patent examiners. It is the TKDL technology which has created a unique mechanism for a Sanskrit verse to be read in languages like German, Japanese, English, Spanish and French by an examiner at any International Patent Office on his computer screen. At present, as per the approval of Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, access of TKDL is available to nine International Patent Office (European Patent Office, United State Patent & Trademark Office, Japan Patent Office, United Kingdom Patent Office, Canadian Intellectual Property Office, German Patent Office, Intellectual Property Australia, Indian Patent Office and Chile Patent Office), under TKDL Access (Non-disclosure) Agreement. Negotiations are under way to conclude the Access Agreement with Intellectual Property Office of Russia and Malaysia. As per the terms and conditions of the Access agreement, examiners of patent office can utilize TKDL for search and examination purposes only and can not reveal the contents of TKDL to any third party unless it is necessary for the purpose of citation. TKDL Access Agreement is unique in nature and has in-built safeguards on Non-disclosure to protect India’s interest against any possible misuse.
Mr. Samir Brahmachari, director-general of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) recently stated that portions of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) will be made available for the Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) initiative of CSIR. OSDD begun in 2008 with the objective of carrying out research on diseases such as malaria, cholera, tuberculosis and so on. CSIR has now realized the need for opening the TKDL to benefit the research program after three years and believes that the information in the database can help the research cause in many ways. TKDL initially started with the objective of combating patents claiming traditional knowledge and continues to be so. By opening the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) for public access in order to further research and development of traditional knowledge and it also safeguard the interests of traditional knowledge holders. The OSS model is based on OSS licenses that grant rights to copy, modify, use and develop software under certain conditions. The objective of the conditions is to enable the use and distribution of the software in the light of the philosophy with which the software is made available. The restrictive nature of the conditions depends on the objectives sought to be achieved by the initial developer of the software. Based on the objective of the initial developer, the license terms may be either very restrictive like that of GNU General Public License or liberal like the BSD License. Most licenses generally include conditions with respect to making the source code available, attribution and mode of distribution.
TKDL will be made available to the public for free access under an Open Source License. The license will grant the following rights to any person who wishes to access the information:
Right to copy;
Right to use; and
Right to modify.
The rights will be subject to the following conditions:
Attribution must be given to the Holders as and when the information is used to develop creations, inventions or products on them wherever possible and literature;
Source of information and details with respect to Holders must be cited in patent and other IP documents;
Commercial benefits from the information must be shared with the Holders as per national laws; Any use that is counter-productive to the ends of traditional knowledge protection will result in termination; and so on.
The strengths of the model are as follows:
Enable free access and development of traditional knowledge;
Enable policing of IP protection over traditional knowledge by the public; and
Ensure attribution and benefit sharing.
The weaknesses of the model are:
The rights on which the model is based is weak; and
The model may not be enforceable internationally due to differences in rights granted on traditional knowledge in various countries.
Finally, a publicly available database can be scrutinized by external experts, allowing greater accuracy in translation and facilitate scientific research into TK generally. With several reports of mistranslations and exaggerated claims, the TKDL would greatly benefit from a constructive, public debate over its contents, as well as an informed scientific discussion on the utility of specific instances of TK.