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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1215


Senator Siewert asked the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, upon notice, on 16 December 2008:

(1)   Is the Minister aware that Amway, Mary Kay and Mannatech currently have Australian patent applications pending for processes to extract vitamin C from the Gubinge tree (also known as Billy Goat Plum and Kakadu Plum) that occurs across tropical Australia and has the highest concentration of vitamin C of any fruit on the planet.

(2)   Is the Minister aware that if these patents are successful then the current development plans for this plant for commercialisation by Indigenous communities will be stopped.

(3)   What steps are being taken to provide legal recognition of traditional knowledge for the purpose of giving Indigenous people the capacity to participate in the economic development of Australia, thereby generating income and wealth for them which will be independent of Government.


Senator Carr (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

(1)   IP Australia is not aware, to the best of its knowledge, of any published Australian patent applications from AMWAY which relate to the Kakadu Plum. Nor is IP Australia aware, to the best of its knowledge, of any published Australian patent applications which are directed to processes to extract Vitamin C from the Kakadu Plum. IP Australia is aware of an Australian patent application from Mary Kay Inc., which is to a skin care composition comprising Kakadu Plum extract; and a patent application from Coradji Pty Ltd being to a method of removing the seed of the Kakadu Plum. There are also three Australian patent applications from Mannatech Inc. to dietary supplements which may contain Kakadu Plum extract, but which are not directed to the Kakadu Plum specifically. There is an Australian patent application for a food composition which contains rose hips and (among several options) Kakadu Plum concentrate. There are two other Australian patent applications which describe the Kakadu Plum in the description as being one of a wide range of components in a dietary supplement composition. There is a granted US patent to a method for preparing dried powder from the Kakadu Plum, and two granted US patents for anti-allergy compositions which may contain Kakadu Plum and methods of using the composition. There is also a US patent application for an ice cream kit, where the ice cream may be flavoured with Kakadu Plum. These do not have equivalent Australian applications. None of the eight Australian patent applications has been granted and none have lapsed. (A list of relevant patent documents is attached below).

(2)   The fact that a patent may refer to, claim compositions of, or be to a method involving the Kakadu Plum does not necessarily mean that such a patent would prevent commercialisation by Indigenous communities. The breadth and value of patents varies greatly, and hence interpretation and understanding of each patent is required. It may mean that advice should be sought by Indigenous communities as to which aspects of the use of the Kakadu Plum may become, or are, under patent. Commercialisation may be able to occur and co-exist with patented aspects of the Kakadu Plum - much depends on what is to be commercialised, and the breadth of any patented uses or extracts.

(3)   Traditional knowledge can be protected under the Patents Act 1990, Trade Marks Act 1995, Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 1994 and Designs Act 2003 provided the standard legislative requirements for protection are met. Trade practices, confidential information and unfair competition laws may also have a role in the protection of traditional knowledge. More specifically, the existing Patent system includes provisions that may be used by any party, including Indigenous people, to pursue their interests. For example, any party may notify the Commissioner of reasons why an invention is not patentable because it is not novel or inventive. This can occur under Section 27 of the Patents Act and may include notification of evidence of any traditional knowledge. This may modify the scope of a granted patent should such information be shown to predate the application, or may prevent the grant of the patent all together. Similarly Section 59 allows any interested person to oppose the granting of a patent.

Attachment: Relevant Patent Documents

Australian Patent application 2007205838 by MARY KAY, INC. relates to a skin care product comprising Kakadu plum extract or acai berry extract. (Claim 1)

Australian Patent application 2004268233 by MANNATECH, INC. relates to a dietary supplement which may contain Australian bush plum (Claims 33 - 41)

Australian Patent application 2005328670 by MANNATECH, INC. relates to a modified release dietary supplement comprises polysaccharides which is compressed at a pressure of greater than 100psi. (Claim 1) It may contain a vitamin C source extracted from wild Australian Bush Plum. (page 5 - 6, 8, 27, 28 29)

Australian Patent application 2006237559 by MANNATECH INC., relates to a modified release dietary supplement which comprises polysaccharides which is compressed at a pressure of greater than 100psi. (Claim 1) It may contain a vitamin C source extracted from wild Australian Bush Plum. (page 6, 31 - 32)

Australian Patent application 2004203276 by CORADJI Pty Ltd relates to a method of removing the seed from the fruit of the Terminalia ferdinandiana (ie bush plum) (Claim 1)

Australian Patent application 2007231781 by EXIST MARKETING PTY LTD. to a method and compositions of treating bursitis which may contain Kakadu Plum. (page 14)

Australian Patent application 2007249801 by INTERLEUKIN GENETICS, INC. is to a food composition comprising rose hips and optionally Kakadu concentrate, from the Kakadu Plum. (Claim 1)

Australian Innovation patent application 2008100919 by GREENTASTE Pty Ltd. is to a herbal composition which optionally may contain Kakadu Plum (page 26)

US Patent 7175862 assigned to ACCESS BUSINESS GROUP INTERNATIONAL LLC is to a method of preparing dried powder from the Kakadu Plum. This application does not have an Australian equivalent.

US Patent 7384654 assigned to ACCESS BUSINESS GROUP INTERNATIONAL LLC is to an anti-allergy composition which may contain Kakadu concentrate. This application does not have an Australian equivalent.

US Patent 7384656 assigned to ACCESS BUSINESS GROUP INTERNATIONAL LLC is to a method of inhibiting an allergic response by administering a composition which may which may contain Kakadu concentrate. This application does not have an Australian equivalent.

US patent application 2008/0305218 by GZB CORPORATION is to an ice cream kit where the ice cream may contain Kakadu plum flavouring. This application does not have an Australian equivalent.