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Digital Library of Traditional Knowledge
by D.P. Agrawal

R.A. Mashelkar, Director General of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research in India, took up main three issues when he was the Chairman of the Standing Committee: 1) treating traditional knowledge 'on par' with industrial property systems, 2) designing new international Patent Classification Systems to give due recognition to traditional knowledge, and 3) creating a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) (Mashelkar 2001).

A comprehensive initiative was spearheaded by the Department of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy (ISMH). It set up an inter-disciplinary task force, known as TKDL, by drawing experts from the Central Council of Research of Ayurveda and Siddha, Banaras Hindu University, National Informatics Centre, the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research and the Controller General of Patents and Trademarks.

The task force evolved a scientific classification approach known as the Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification (TKRC) which would enable the retrieval of information on traditional knowledge in a scientific and rational manner. The structure of TKRC would be similar to that commonly used for classifying modern innovations, which enable an easy linkage with the International Patent Classification (IPC). All the patent examiners around the world use IPC during patent examination.

Early this year, WIPO set up a Traditional Knowledge Task Force consisting of US, Japan, European Union, China and India. The Indian proposal on creating TKRC was presented to them. All the members of the task force have already initiated their work and are likely to submit the draft report to WIPO by February 2002.

The acceptance of the Indian proposal would lead to the following advantages:

        The inclusion of the Indian TKRC will enhance the quality of patent examination substantially. While the IPC has more than 100,000 sub-groups for retrieving information on modern scientific inventions, it only has one sub-group for collecting information on medicinal plants. The Indian TKRC, on the other hand, has information on 5,000 sub-groups.

        Traditional knowledge of the developing world will also be resolved to a large extent since the patent examiners will have access to pertinent information in an appropriately classified form. Similar systems will be evolved by other countries and regions such as China, Latin America, and Indonesia which are rich in traditional knowledge.


Mashelkar, R.A., 2001. Intellectual property rights and the Third World. Current Science 81 (8): 963.