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Indian Government moves to protect its cultur -

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Reporter: Meredith Griffiths

ELEANOR HALL: The Indian Government has taken steps to stop western drug companies from slapping
patents on medical treatments that have been used for centuries.

It's declared that more than 200,000 medical remedies are public property and are free for anyone
to use.

Legal academic Dr Patricia Loughlan from the University of Sydney told Meredith Griffiths that this
is a massive step forward for countries which are trying to protect their intellectual property.

PATRICIA LOUGHLAN: The problem with traditional medicines is that, yes it is known about within say
sometimes a very small community or a very small community in a developing world where this
traditional knowledge has never been reduced to documentary form.

So big pharma can go into say India or you know into the Amazon and engage in what is sometimes
called 'bio-prospecting' or 'bio-piracy'. They get this traditional knowledge and they patent it
themselves and then start making monopoly profits from this patent for something that in effect
they didn't invent. They got the knowledge from someone who invented it say 500 years ago.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Can you explain what India has done recently?

PATRICIA LOUGHLAN: What India has done is stop that happening by putting all this knowledge into a
data base and made the data base public so that now if big pharma tries to get a patent on say the
pesticidal properties of a particular seed and they go into the European patent office saying look,
we've got something new here and we want a patent on it and then what will happen is a patent
examiner in the European patent office will look at the data base and say no, actually what you
have done is not new.

It has been known about, we have proof. So it is not novel, you don't deserve an invention for
that. It means that anyone in the world then can just create a pesticide or a pharmaceutical or
whatever the invention is, using that knowledge.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: They have listed things like remedies and plants and animals ...

PATRICIA LOUGHLAN: That is right.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: And different techniques that for centuries have been found to have medical
purposes...

PATRICIA LOUGHLAN: That's right.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: To work as treatments. How does just purely listing them onto a website stop
foreign drug companies from declaring a patent on these treatments?

PATRICIA LOUGHLAN: A major tenet of patent law is that to be patentable, an invention has to be
new. It has to be something new under the sun, the term is novel.

The reason for this requirement is that it is sort of protective of the public interest. What it
does is it stops the patenting of that which is already known. Something that is already in the
public domain because if you patent something that is already known about society is then, in
effect, suffers the consequences of a patent but doesn't gain anything.

There's a public interest in restricting the grant of monopolies except in so far as it is
necessary to give a patent or a monopoly to create an incentive to invent but if it is already
invented, you don't need that incentive so you don't need a patent.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: So you're confident then that this strategy by India is going to work? I mean
should other developing countries be trying to do it as well?

PATRICIA LOUGHLAN: Yes, it will work. It is perfect. It is not in any way defying the patent
system. That is what in a way is so clever about it. It is not you know, kicking against the traces
trying to, you know, gather worldwide opinion to stop bio-piracy.

It is using what is in the patent system itself and that is what it is so clever and why it will
work and why generally, politically and morally right and economically right by itself.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Patricia Loughlan from the University of Sydney speaking there to Meredith
Griffiths.