India bends over backwards to protect its traditional knowledge

As a result of reports that patent applications for yoga positions have been lodged in the US, the Indian Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) has once again focused its attention on reviewing hundreds of ancient texts to provide evidence of India’s traditional knowledge in the field of yoga.  Previous attempts at this task have provided unsatisfactory results.  However, they are now trying again – by videoing the yoga positions that are set out in these texts. 

The aim of this project is to distribute the information to intellectual property organisations around the world, such as IP Australia.  It is hoped that the information will be used by such organisations to reject any patent applications in this field, on the basis of India’s prior art.  The utility of digital libraries, such as India’s TKDL, in providing the relevant evidence for patent examiners, can also be useful in protecting traditional knowledge used in medicinal products which Western countries may be trying to exploit.

Despite heated arguments about the right to patent yoga positions and what this would mean, there is little discussion on whether yoga positions are inherently patentable material.  First, to be patentable (in Australia) an invention must be considered a “method of manufacture”.  Second, when compared with the prior art base, the invention must be novel and involve an inventive step.  Finally the invention must be useful and have not been used in the patent area before the priority date of the claim.  It is difficult to see how a yoga position could meet these criteria, particularly in relation to the first two elements.  However, despite the uncertainty surrounding patentability of yoga positions generally and when compared with the prior art, what is clear, is that protection for yoga-related products is available.  Yoga-related patents have been granted or applied for (particular in the US) for items such as yoga mats, yoga clothing and even a yoga board game.  Other intellectual property protection is also available, such as trade marks for yoga-related business names and copyright protection for yoga DVDs or books.

In a recent interview with the BBC UK, Dr Vinod Kumar Gupta, head of the TKDL in India, said that India is taking this defensive action, so that “everybody is free to practice yoga all over the world”.

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