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Today we draw the attention of our readers to a press release issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as recently as on December 10, 2013, regarding documentation of certain medicinal herbs in India. The information in the release consists of the official reply of the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Shri Gulam Nabi Azad in response to an issue raised in the Rajya Sabha.

The release voices an intimation by the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion that no British firm has yet filed any patent application before the Indian Patent Office regarding any medicinal product for the treatment of cough, bronchial asthama and lung diseases, that would involve Ginger and Kutki, whether alone or together with other ingredients. However, according to the records maintained in the CSIR-Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, a patent application (publication No. GB2436063) had been filed by the British firm named Nicholas John Larkins, back in 2006 in the UK. The application was titled "Pharmaceutical composition for the treatment of excess mucous production" and claimed the use of Ginger and Kutki for the treatment of phlegmatic cough, bronchial asthma, cough/ bronchitis, diseases of phlegm and as phlegmagogue. This application had, however, been challenged by TKDL vide a pre-grant opposition filed on April 25, 2011 and the application had finally been terminated before grant on May 12, 2011.

The press release then talks about how the TKDL had been formed, in order to prevent inter alia misappropriation of Indian traditional medicines and herbs, as a collaborative effort between the Department of AYUSH in the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and how it today boasts of a huge repository almost three hundred thousand medicinal formulations including concoction of herbs derived from traditional Indian texts on Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha and so on. Another unit of AYUSH, named the Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, through its wing of the National Institute of Indian Medical Heritage, has also recently come up with a web-based research portal for dissemination of all the research outcomes in AYUSH Systems including medicinal plants. This research portal may also be able to address one of the major flaws of the TKDL that has restricted its application only for contesting frivolous claims, viz. access to TKDL being limited only to the International Patent Offices. This is because the portal is an open access one that allows any user to seek relevant information regarding any research undertaken in any part of the world on the AYUSH Systems including herbs and medicinal plants.

The open access portal is therefore indeed a harbinger of good tidings to interested researchers and practitioners and one can hope that it proves to be worth more than its weight in gold in order to facilitate protection of the Indian herbs and medicinal plants from any manner of exploitation whatsoever.

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