INDIA: Patenting Ayurveda, Yoga
By Courtesy: WebIndia123.com
Bitten by patent rows over basmati and turmeric, India doesn't want to be caught off guard again by the West, certainly not when it comes to its ancient healing systems of yoga, ayurveda, unani and siddha.
A task force appointed by the government for protecting traditional knowledge and intellectual property is fast completing the documentation of yoga postures and techniques as well as formulae in ayurveda, siddha and unani - all Indian traditional medicinal systems.
The aim is to stop foreign practitioners and individuals, including Indian expatriates, from claiming copyrights.
"Most of the misuse has been done by people of Indian origin living outside India and multinational companies. By the documentation, we hope we would be able to control it largely," V.K. Gupta, head of the task force, told IANS.
"We have identified 1,500 yoga postures and thousands of formulae in Indian medicinal systems from ancient books to document and make it available for the office that grants patents and copyrights to trademark it as our public property."
He said the documentation process - including texts, voice and visuals - would be completed by March 2007.
"Most of the documentation is done," Gupta said, adding that around 100 experts had been working on it for the last three years.
"We have referred to 54 ancient books to research on ayurveda, 35 for unani and 15 for siddha and have documented 50,000 formulae in ayurveda and 24,000 in unani," Gupta said.
He said the task force has created a database of 10 million pages.
Under a Rs. 100-million project, the health and family welfare ministry would be preserving all possible details of yoga postures in a multi-media digital library - Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL).
The data will be made available in five international languages, and 11 countries, including the US, Britain, Japan and China, would be able to access it.
The task force has found that at least 150 yoga postures that were developed and practised in India for ages - the system finds mention in Vedic scriptures - have been pirated in the US, Europe and in Japan.
It says yoga is a $30 billion industry in the West.
The task force says the US Patents Office has so far issued 134 patents on yoga accessories, 150 yoga-related copyrights and 2,315 yoga trademarks while Britain has approved at least 10 trademarks relating to yoga training aids.
Bikram Chowdhury, a Los Angelus-based multi-millionaire yoga guru, has popularised "hot yoga" - he reportedly developed 26 postures and two breathing exercises performed in a certain sequence in 105 degree heat - and claimed copyrights over it.
Chowdhury even sent legal notices to studios that practised this form of yoga, but later sought a secret agreement with them before the case went for trial in San Francisco.
In the past decade, a number of "specialists" have also mushroomed in ayurveda, siddha and unani systems who have made a fortune out of it.
Little wonder then that the Indian government's move has pleased many.
"This is a very good move. We should protect the heritage our saints have developed and preserved for the good of human kind," said Nivedita Joshi, daughter of former cabinet minister Murli Manohar Joshi and a yoga instructor.
Joshi, who was all praise for the decision, said: "It could have been done only by the government. No individual could have done it as it's a heavily expensive thing."
"No Indian would appreciate anybody patenting yoga postures as their own. Why should we let one particular person make money of some thing, which has been ours from time immemorial?" Joshi told IANS.
K.M. Gopakumar, a lawyer who is researching patent laws, said: "Once documented and published, it will be in the public domain. The so-called lifestyle gurus cannot claim copyright and allege infringement by others who practise it," he said.
"The documentation is a mechanism of protecting it from misappropriation also."
India learnt its lessons from past controversies - when a US company was granted a patent on the wound-healing properties of turmeric. Another US firm was granted a basmati patent. India challenged both successfully.