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Script 68.9

Notes to broadcasters

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The global market for plant-based medicines, plant-based pesticides, and other plant products is enormous, growing quickly and very competitive. Large companies are searching the world for new and valuable plants. When they find them, they develop extraction methods, usually based on traditional methods, and they rush to patent them. Patenting is a process where time-limited rights are awarded to an inventor or owner in exchange for public disclosure of an invention. This means that the inventor or owner must tell the public how to make and use their invention, at the level of someone familiar with the field. By law, no one else is allowed to make, use or sell the invention in the country where it is patented. In the last ten years, North American and European companies have taken out patents on several materials extracted or developed from Indian plants, including basmati rice, turmeric and the neem tree. These are plants that have been used for hundreds or even thousands of years by local communities.

Other communities in other countries have had their traditional plants patented as well. Unless local communities value their methods and knowledge and protect them properly, they may lose control of the way they use their traditional plants outside of their home territories, and unless they fight against patents in other countries, they may not be able to export to those countries. Many communities have begun to fight back. Some, as in this script, challenge the validity of patents in court. Other communities find other ways to fight for their heritage. As a broadcaster, you can help communities to value traditional knowledge and to protect the right to keep traditional knowledge from exploitation. You can help communities and individuals explore and claim their heritage by broadcasting scripts that educate and entertain.

Script

Characters

Host

Vishwas Amitraj:
farmer in his 50s

HOST
-Good ___________ [morning, afternoon, evening] listeners. In our programs recently, we’ve been celebrating the success of local farmers in finding solutions to everyday problems through their own innovation and experimentation. We’ve talked about rehabilitating degraded land, new ways to earn income, and methods for conserving soil and water. We’ve also discussed the importance of sharing our success stories with other farmers. Today, we’re going to hear about another important aspect of farmer innovation – protecting our innovations from being patented. To help us understand what this means, I will be speaking with Vishwas Amitraj. Mister Amitraj is a member of an Indian farmers’ group that helped win a great victory in court two years ago. Welcome, Mister Amitraj. Can you tell us about your victory?

VISHWAS
-Good ___________ [morning, afternoon, evening]. Yes, we are very happy. The European courts have agreed with us that the neem plant is free for everyone to use and that no one can patent it.

HOST
-Can you explain to our listeners what a patent is?

VISHWAS
-A patent is a license that gives an individual or company the sole right to make, use and sell a particular product in a particular country.

HOST
-Why did you go to court?

VISHWAS
-Well, a large company wanted a patent to use neem in making a pesticide. That would mean that anyone who wanted to use the pesticide would have to pay the company for it.

HOST
-Can you tell us how patenting the neem tree would affect Indian farmers?

VISHWAS
-Well, first let me tell you about neem. The neem tree has had many uses in India for over two thousand years. Farmers use neem to protect stored grains from insects. Women in south India light lamps with neem oil to keep insects away. People all over India use neem as a medicine. But one company wanted to patent a method of controlling plant diseases using an extract of seeds from the neem tree.

HOST
-Why did you disagree with that?

VISHWAS
-If a company patents neem as a fungicide, anyone who wants to use the neem plant for that use in the country where the patent is held has to pay money to the company that holds the patent. Here’s an interesting fact. The scientific name for the neem tree comes from Persian words that mean ‘the free tree of India.’ But patenting neem means that neem is not free for everyone to use.

HOST
-But is it legal for companies to patent something that people have used for two thousand years?

VISHWAS
-We said that it shouldn’t be. After all, if it’s been used before, it’s not really an invention. And the European courts agreed with us.

HOST
-The newspapers have said that this is an important victory for communities in India. Why is it important?

VISHWAS
-Well, it’s a first. You see, most of the ways neem is used in India were never written down. They were passed from parents to children by word of mouth. Never before has a European or North American court agreed that oral knowledge is real and valid, just like written scientific knowledge. Our victory is also important because there are many other plants in India and in other countries that have been used to cure diseases or control pests. Our victory gives communities around the world hope that they will be able to protect their local traditional knowledge, and continue to use their local plants freely.

HOST
-Is going to court the only way to protect traditional knowledge?

VISHWAS
-Thankfully not. Sometimes it helps just to collect traditional knowledge and write it down. Communities all over the world are doing just that, both to preserve traditional knowledge and to make sure that the way they use their plants cannot be patented. Some people are putting this knowledge on the Internet, or in magazines. Other communities are simply writing it down and keeping the records themselves. People should be aware though that laws are different in different countries. You should be familiar with the laws in your country to make sure that your traditional knowledge is protected.

HOST
-Are there any other ways to protect local plants and their traditional uses?

VISHWAS
-A lot of communities around the world are realizing that they have a common goal – to protect their heritage and traditional knowledge. These might be communities of farmers, communities of people who live in tropical forests, communities of people who live in the mountains, or whatever. It’s always easier to work with a number of organizations from around the world that support your actions and your beliefs.

HOST
-Well, Mr. Amitraj, you have certainly given us a lot to think about today. Do you have any last words for our listeners?

VISHWAS
-I have two. The first is education, the second is celebration. Education is very important. We need to tell people in our own communities that our traditional knowledge, especially the way we use plants, is important and valuable. The neem is one example, but there are many others. Most importantly, we need to tell people that this knowledge is ours and we deserve to profit from any uses that other people make of it. Because the knowledge is ours, we should control how it’s used. We have to fight hard for that, or it may be taken away from us.

HOST
-What about celebration?

VISHWAS
-Celebrating will help us protect our heritage. All over the world, there are festivals and fairs that honour and celebrate the wonderful knowledge of plant medicines that we have gathered over thousands of years. These celebrations keep our spirits alive and give us hope.

HOST
-Thank you, Mister Amitraj. Your victory is inspiring. And thank you for listening today.

Acknowledgements

Contributed by Vijay Cuddeford, North Vancouver, Canada.

Reviewed by Victoria Henson-Apollonio, Manager and Senior Scientist, CGIAR Central Advisory Service on Intellectual Property, The Netherlands

Information Sources

Traditional knowledge of biodiversity in Asia-Pacific: Problems of Piracy and Protection. Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) and Kalpavriksh. October 2002. GRAIN, Girona 25, pral., E-08010, Barcelona, Spain. Tel: +34 933011381. Fax: +34 933011627. E-mail: grain@grain.org

The Johannesburg Declaration on Biopiracy, Biodiversity and Community Rights. BioWatchhttp://www.biowatch.org.za/jhbdecl.htm
Padmanabhan, Chitra. The Mysterious Case of the Neem Tree. Pitara.com Kids Network.
Level Playing Field.” Orbit June 2002.
Neem: A Plant for All Seasons. Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. RFSTE, A- 60, Hauz Khas, New Delhi India 110016. Tel:  +91 11 26968077 and 26853772. Fax: +91 11 26856795. Email: rfste@vsnl.com
Background paper on the Neem Patent Challenge. Nederlands Platform Genetechnologie, postbus 40066, 1009 BB Amsterdam (t.n.v. het NPG, kamer 211). Tel: 020-6684085, Fax: 084-8733856, E-mail:info@platformgentechnologie.nl