Monopolizing Traditional Knowledge- Turmeric Extract gets patent in USA

Monopolizing Traditional Knowledge- Turmeric Extract gets patent in USAA Kerala based company, Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd has received a US patent for turmeric extract formulation BCM 95. BCM 95 is a composition comprising of curcuminoid mixture and essential oil of turmeric wherein the turmeric essential oil is present in a weight ratio that enhances the bio availablity of curcumin, an ingredient widely known in India having as therapeutic qualities and better known as anti-inflammatory agent.

The recently granted US patent claims use of BCM 95 for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. BCM 95 is said to be seven times more bio active than curcumin, per se. The applicant/patentee has claimed novelty and inventive steps in the composition or method on the basis of the weight ratio of curcuminoid mixture to the added essential oil of turmeric which is not found in the natural extracts of turmeric. The advantage of this inventive weight ratio has been shown to increase the bio-availability of curcumin. The Company has also applied for the patent of the same composition for the treatment of depression.

Since the claimed composition relates to a re-blend of two known bio active constituents of turmeric whose therapeutic properties are well known in Indian traditional knowledge, there are concerns that this may be another case of bio piracy. It is significant to note here, that in 2012 Indian Government had revoked the patent for a composition granted to Avesthagen for treatment of diabetes. The composition consisting of jamun, lavangpatti and chandan came under attack in view of public interest under section 66 of the Patent Act, 1970 and also because the patent infringed upon the TKDL (Traditional Knowledge Digital Database) of India.

This composition had already been rejected by EPO (European Patent Office) on intervention made by CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research), premier R&D body in India who developed TKDL(TraditionalKnowledge Digital Library).

While Avesthagen argued that though there may be traditional knowledge in the fact that plants like jamun, lavangpatti could be used for the treatment of diabetes, it was not known that when used in combination they show an improved efficacy and aggressive effect. Indian Government, however, was not convinced and revoked the patent under Section 66 of the Act on grounds of being “generally prejudicial to the public”.