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Turmeric an Indian discovery, says US patent office

Turmeric (haldi) is an Indian discovery and cannot be patented. So decreed the US Patent and Trademark Office before sweeping six claims on the matter off the table.

The claims were challenged by the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in March 1995. Earlier attempts to challenge the patenting of the medicinal properties of neem had failed, leading to suspicion of US laws and the US policy on intellectual property rights.

However, after protracted techno-legal arguments the US PTO unequivocally rejected all six claims made on August 13, ruling that turmeric's medicinal properties were not patentable.

CSIR Director General Dr R A Mashelkar described the development as one of far-reaching consequences, not only for the protection of traditional Indian knowledge in the public domain but also for that of other third world countries.

This is the first known case where the use of the traditional knowledge base of a third world country patented in the US has been successfully challenged. Efforts to challenge a similar patent made out on neem were not even entertained by the US patent office, Dr Mashelkar said.

According to Dr Mashelkar, the success of the turmeric case sends out strong signals that well-argued and well-supported techno-legal cases would have a fair chance in the US PTO.

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