India: Kerala to Protect Tribal Intellectual Property Rights

NEW DELHI -- The Kerala government has decided to introduce legislation to protect the intellectual property rights of its tribespeople who have been practising traditional nature-based medicine for centuries.

"The Kerala government will soon pass legislation to protect tribal
intellectual property rights. With the new legislation, the government
would be able to get patent rights for the traditional tribal
medicines," M.A. Kuttappan, the Minister for Welfare of Backward and
Scheduled Communities and Youth Affairs, told IANS.

The bill, according to its preamble, is to provide for the
determination, preservation, protection and improvement of the tribal
traditional system related to medicine, agricultural practices and
knowledge of wild flora and fauna used for food as well as shelter.

"The Kerala government has identified 35 scheduled tribal communities
and 13 other tribal communities with a number of traditional medicines
and other agricultural practices. Many more are to identified," said M.
Viswanathan Nair of the Kerala Institute for Research, Training and
Development Studies of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (KIRTADS).

KIRTADS is setting up a new Web site with details of the varieties of
tribal medicine practised in the state. The institute has also been
documenting the unique medicinal practices on the state government's Web

"The new Web site would be a landmark as tribal medicine, or
ethnomedicine, has become a treasure hunting ground for other medical
systems and multinational drug firms," Kuttappan said, adding that
registering it on the Web site would prevent others from wresting the
patent rights.

"The bill is also meant to safeguard the tribals' right over their
knowledge on medicinal herbs," he said.

"The new bill would provide economic and social benefits to the state in
general and tribal communities in particular as well as protecting the
intellectual properties from piracy. With the bill, there would be
adequate legal mechanism to plough back the revenue earned from such
ventures," Nair told IANS.

Kuttappan said the federal government had agreed to establish an
institute for tribal medicine education and research in a joint venture
with the state.

On other projects for tribal welfare, Kuttappan said the federal
government has agreed in principle to set up an archery academy to train
tribal boys and girls in the modern variation of the sport.

"The academy will be set up to honour the memory of Talakkal Chandu, a
tribal chieftain of Kerala. The project, funded by the sports and youth
affairs ministry, will be implemented at the cost of Rs. 63.5 million.
This will be a residential school to train in modern archery," he said.

The federal government has also sanctioned three more projects for
tribespeople in Kerala. The first, costing Rs. 700 million, would
rehabilitate tribal families while the second, costing Rs. 100 million,
would improve sanitation and drinking water facilities in Kerala's
northern tribal-populated districts of Wayanad and Attappadi. The third,
a Rs. 100 million project, would build English-medium residential
schools for tribal children.

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