Organic Consumers Association

US Firm Bags Patent On Arhar Extracts

Ashok B Sharma New Delhi, Aug 3

The US patent and trademark office (USPTO) has granted patent rights on traditional knowledge of the usage of pigeon pea extracts and ngali nut oil for treating several diseases.

The USPTO has granted three patent rights (nos. 6,410,596; 6,541,522 and 6,542,511) to the $109-million bio-pharmaceutical company Insmed Inc, based in Richmond in Virginia, for its `novel invention of pigeon pea extracts' for treating diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity and artherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (clogged arteries).

It has also awarded patent rights (no. 6,395,313) to Australian entreprenuer Queenslander Peter Hull for using ngali nut oil for treating arthritis. Ngali nut trees are grown on the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu,
Papua New
Guinea, and the Phillipines; and one of its variety canarium indicium is grown in Sri Lanka and South India.

Pigeon pea with its botanical name cajanus cajan is commonly known as `arhar' or red gram in the country. It is a crop of the semi-arid tropics and the genebank of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), Hyderabad, has more than 10,000 samples of pigeon peas. In Puerto Rico, pigeon pea is known as `gandul' or `arroz con gandules'. Similarly, in other tropical countries, it is known by different names.

There are several instances of the use of pigeon pea extracts in traditional medicines in the country. A recent study of plant medicines by researchers in the department of pharmacology at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims) tested pigeon pea extracts as they are used to treat diabetes in Ayurvedic medicines. In 1997, the
Botany Club of the
University of Guyana in its newsletter had highlighted the nutritional value of pigeon pea and medicinal values ranging from cures of flu to diabetes. Researches conducted in 1995 in the University of Philippines and suggested it as a remedy for diabetes and hyperlipidaemics.

In the patent applications, Insmed acknowledges only a handful of uses of pigeon peas in traditional medicines and refers to 1957 and 1968 journal articles that describe the effects of pigeon pea and its extracts on blood sugar. Insmed claims novelty in describing "a purified plant extract whose dosage is easily measurable."

According to Insmed, the pigeon pea extracts by means of traditional process "contain a myriad of naturally-occurring organic compounds" that may interfere with medicinal effects. That impurity, the company says, "can result in an effective amount, i.e. too low a concentration, or a toxic amount, too high a concentration, of active compound administered." The patent application skirts reference to traditional use of pigeon peas in treatment of diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

The scientists at the Indian Council of Industrial Research say if the patent rights infringes upon the country's traditional knowledge, it should be challenged. They also say there is a need to document the evidences available in traditional texts about the use of pigeon pea extracts and ngali oil and that the Aiims, which has already conducted a study, should come out with more clear evidences.

According to National Group on Patent Laws convenor BK Keayla, it is very easy to get patents rights on any so-called novelty. "We must gather strong evidences from our traditional texts to challenge such patent rights."


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