The Pelargonium Patent case and the ruling that we had blogged about here was hailed as a landmark decision against bio-piracy. It, however, seems to have done little to abate the enthusiasm of companies to set out applying for and sometimes even getting a patents for, what is considered, traditional knowledge of indigenous communities in Africa.
Afro-IP, a leading blog on African IP issues, reports on two such controversial grants of patents on the Traditional Knowledge of Tanzania and Kenya, respectively.
Tanzania is contemplating moving the appropriate forum to stop the governments of the USA and Brazil from patenting a sorghum gene isolated from a variety of sorghum indigenous to Tanzania. The gene allows crops to be tolerant to aluminum found in the soil, the toxicity of which stunts the growth of crop plant roots. The USPTO is said to have granted the patent in September 2009 and further patent applications for the same are pending before the EPO and in Australia.
The Kenyan case relates to a patent granted by the USPTO in March 2010 for a medicinal herbal composition derived from Kenyan plants for treatment of HIV and other infectious diseases. However, in this instance, the patent granted is for process and not the plants itself.
The debate of bio-piracy has, from its initiation, taken the romantic hue of David v. Goliath. However, this is an issue that is fast gaining the spotlight in the realm of IP policy. With the ruling in the Pelargonium Patent case, it is 1-0 in favour of the indigenous communities.
But, the game is far from over.
While pharmaceutical companies try their best to find that fine balance and patent (and market) what they truly believe is a novel invention, the indigenous communities currently are fighting hard to ensure they're not left out in the cold. Questions of bio-piracy are tricky and are based on far more than just rhetoric. They require incisive analysis, which hopefully we will be able to present to our readers once we lay our hands on more information.