WorldChanging ally and commenter Laurens "Lorenzo" Rademakers gave us a heads-up on a terrific bit of news: India has won a decade-long battle at the European Patent Office against a patent granted on a product derived from the native plant neem. The EU Parliament's Green Party, India-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) successfully argued that the anti-fungal properties of neem were part of the traditional knowledge of Indians, and that the patenting corporation, WC Grace, had engaged in "biopiracy."
The backbone of RFSTE's challenge was that the fungicide qualities of the neem tree and its use had been known in India for over 2,000 years.
The neem derivatives have also been used traditionally to make insect repellents, soaps, cosmetics, tooth cleaners and contraceptives.
Vandana Shiva, the Indian environmentalist in charge of RFSTE, was quoted as saying "...Denying the patent means upholding the value of traditional knowledge for millions of women not only in India, but throughout the South. The Free Tree Will Stay Free."
Traditional Knowledge Databases are a good start to the documentation of medical, food, architectural and cultural knowledge of different societies, and can help Western political institutions recognize claims of "prior art" in biopiracy patent disputes.
Great news. Lets hope this puts a stop on worldwide commercialisation and theft of common and traditional knowledge.
There are similar cases. It is said that employees of big multinationals enter the Amazon forest as missionaries with the objective to "discover" plants that are used traditionally by the native population in order to export them secretly for commercial exploitation. There is a case of a plant called Cupuaçu that was taken from the Amazon forest to Japan for commercial exploitation. There is even a case known of an attempt to patent the national Brazilian beverage, Cachaça. Brazil fought both cases, and won at least the latter one.
Lets hope this case between Europe and India sets a precedent, also in relation to Japanese, North American and worldwide patents.