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India: Traditional Knowledge Digital Library

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In order to prevent the so-called yoga piracy, where people claim patents and/or copyrights on yoga postures and techniques (asanas) found in ancient texts that originate in India, the government has started scanning ancient texts and documenting yoga asanas. The information is being stored in the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, an electronic encyclopedia of India's traditional medicine, which will be made available to patent offices globally.

According to an article on Global Voices Online, so far 600 asanas have been added to the database, and the team plans to record at least 1,500 yoga postures by the end of this year. This database will be part of the world's first traditional knowledge digital library, which already includes over 200,000 medical formulations of Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani systems of medicine.[16march09]

The patenting of medicinal preparations and yoga postures based on Indian traditional knowledge (eg, the US Patent and Trademark Office patenting turmeric for healing and the European Patent Office (EPO) patenting neem for anti-fungal properties), and their subsequent cancellation, have established that it is feasible, but expensive and time consuming, to oppose the granting of wrong patents at international level. (The cancellation of the patent for turmeric took approximately two years, while cancelling the patent for neem took five years.)

India is home to a vast number of traditional medicines and therapies that have been handed down over generations. The protection of these traditional treasures has long been a matter of concern for Indian scientists and IP specialists. In October 2008, after eight years of research, India concluded the compilation of its first set of the digital library.

However, this information is available to the EPO for patent search and examination purposes only and is not information that can be shared with third parties. Every three months the EPO must inform India of any information that has been used as citation from the traditional knowledge digital library. This will be a step towards preventing the misappropriation of Indian traditional knowledge, which has significant economic potential globally. In addition, the creation of such a resource will provide feedback on various traditional medicines and minimize future controversies about herbal drugs.

As for the asanas, the UK's daily The Telegraph recently reported that there have been more than 130 yoga-related patents, 150 copyrights and 2,300 trademarks in the United States alone. And only in the USA, the yoga business brings in $5.7 billion a year, according to Yoga Journal, including money spent on yoga classes and products.

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