Thai law in the works to prevent biopiracy

Thailand believes that its folk wisdom and traditional knowledge are valuable enough for intellectual property protection, and the government is drafting amendments to the patent law to ensure that companies profiting from that knowledge share their wealth and benefits.

“For example, if a firm wants to make a drug from [indigenous] herbs, it must specify the source and propose profit-sharing. Failure to comply means the firm cannot patent the drug, and attempts to conceal information will result in legal action,” said Jittima Srithaporn, deputy director-general of the Intellectual Property Department.

Some of the indigenous Thai plants that from which medications and supplements are being made include Plao Noi (Croton subiyratus Kurz) used to treat constipation, and Kwao Krua (Pueraria Mirifica), which is used for skincare, as a hormone replacement, and for natural breast enlargement.

Thailand has been working to stop the theft of foreign intellectual property within its borders, such as computer software and fashion brands. But it has also been a leader in raising the issue of, and fighting to protect intellectual property deriving from natural resources and traditional knowledge and wisdom.

Profits earned from indigenous plants and traditional knowledge would be shared to support the preservation and further development of those natural resources and wisdom.

The draft amendment to the Patent Act is scheduled to go to a public hearing next month. It will introduce mandatory profit sharing for commercial use of traditional knowledge through patents.

Jittima said the amendments would also address issues involving compulsory licensing to come into line with the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement of the World Trade Organization.

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