Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ginger Tea and British Patent Office

I do not know, what the readers  of this blog are reminded of, on a rainy wet day, with  chill, dampness and biting cold winds.  As far as I am concerned, I long and yearn on such days, for a steaming hot cup of tea, boiled with a finger of Ginger.  A cup of such Ginger tea, drives away immediately  all thoughts of dampness and chill from my mind, as it  goes down and burns my throat. One does not have to make  such ginger tea only at home  in India. Any road side shack will sell you such a cup of Ginger tea with that burning sensation, which  would give you the same feeling of comfort. Actually ginger tea is just one of the recipe from a range of eats or drinks, that can be made with Ginger. The Ginger candy or the soft candy balls made with dried ginger powder, sugar and lots of Ghee,  are equally tempting and popular. There are other uses of ginger too. My grand mother used dried Ginger powder mixed with water,  to mask the forehead in case of colds and headaches. All these teas, candies and home remedies are really part of our traditional knowledge handed over to us by generations.
Any Indian would feel aggrieved if someone starts claiming that this traditional knowledge, which has been handed over to us by generations, has been discovered by him only now and tries to make a fast buck from the lie.  Five or Six years ago,  a person from London, Nicolas John Larkins, applied for a patent  to British patent Office under a name ” Pharmaceutical composition for the treatment of excess mucous production”. In his application he claimed to have found a wonder drug using  Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and Kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa) to cure cough and lung diseases. This application was filed under patent number (GB2436063).
Government of India found out about this false claim in 2011. They made a demand with British patent office that no such patent should  be granted. When necessary proof was furnished by Government of India, British Patent Office rejected Larkins’s application and canceled the provisional patent. I would not have been surprised, ,  in case this patent had been approved, that this Larkins character would have asked the Indians, to pay royalty to him for drinking ginger tea.
Really speaking,  this is not the first attempt by westerners to loot the traditional knowledge of India. In 1995,  European patent office approved a patent regarding medicinal uses of Neem tree. After India’s complaint and a legal battle of 10 years, the patent was eventually cancelled in 2005. In 1995 only,  US patent office approved a patent about medicinal properties of Turmeric. After India’s complaint it was cancelled in 1997.
CSIR or Council of Scientific Research in India has prepared a database of Traditional Indian knowledge. This has been made available on the web and is known as ‘ The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library or TKDL’. There are 24 Million pages in this database and systematic search is possible. The database includes old Sanskrit manuscripts and facility to translate in German, French, Spanish and Japanese is available. No country approves a patent application,  if the information given in that application is pre-published. Publication of this database on the internet should have stopped this attack on India’s traditional knowledge, which is available for everyone’s use. Indian Government has requested patent offices of all other countries to refer to this data base,  before granting any patent in the related fields. So far no patent office had responded to this call. European patent office has now agreed to use the database. Only the future can tell us the effectiveness of this database in preventing such frivolous patents.
Fighting legal battles to counter such frivolous patents is very expensive and time consuming and therefore can not be done in each and every case. Besides this,  TKDL data base lists only the medicinal properties. Patent applications,  regarding other uses such as preparation of organic colour from Turmeric for example, can be still approved.
The people of Indian origin,  now settled in the western countries,  can help to  prevent such use of traditional Indian knowledge for individual advantage. They should keep watch on such frivolous patent applications and block these in time to prevent issue of patents. Otherwise looting of  this traditional Indian knowledge may continue.


  1. Very informative and humorous, I must say. However, the way it was relayed, there is something that you want us to know about the said use(s) of ginger. The person maybe just so clever in getting a patent about it and some patent agents help him with the setup.

  2. Tarah
    I failed to understand what was humourous?