Paper – Patenting and Protecting Tropical Plant Medicine

Paper by Margaret A. Ninsin


Most medicinal plants and herbs are tropical.  A large population of Africans live in the tropics. For centuries African people have acquired knowledge of their environment, which incudes rainfall patterns, natural phenomena, how to conduct their lives especially to know when to go fishing or hunting and how to take custody of their environment so it will remain productive. One of the areas that they have been successful in preserving is their medicinal knowledge, which has sustained them for years and kept them healthy even before the advent of modern medicine.

Part 1 of this paper establishes that traditional people are the original owners of plant and herbal medicinal knowledge.  It discusses the importance of traditional medicines which consist of plants and herbs as the base from which many of the commercial drugs are manufactured. Traditional people as the original owners must be adequately compensated for preserving this knowledge for centuries.

Part 2 discusses how the lack of knowledge on the protection of this knowledge has led to bio piracy. It gives examples of others patenting the knowledge of these original owners, and discusses the challenges that owners of this knowledge encounter in trying to protect their knowledge. The paper further discusses how to protect this medicinal knowledge through the use of patenting and other IPR systems; the use of Sui Generis systems, and so on The main challenges that traditional people face in acquiring patents. 

In part 3, we discuss ways in which original owners of medicinal knowledge could be assisted to gain recognition as owners of that knowledge, and benefit from it. Consequently, we discuss the need to give them humane and equitable benefits sharing agreements between the multinationals and the local communities, and how this should be facilitated at both national and International Levels.

 Part 4 dwells on the importance of integration in the education curricula from basic education into higher levels of education as a means to address the problem of patenting discussed above.  The importance of scientific research into medicinal knowledge and their sustainability as a continental project will be discussed, also the importance of networking among individuals and institutions engaged in research into traditional medicinal knowledge.

Read the full paper here.

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