The Curious Case of Turmeric Latte

Turmeric Latte is experiencing a wide following and has attained a cult status in the market abroad. From Sydney to San Francisco, cafes and restaurants are adding turmeric latte to their menus and the rising popularity of the same is reflected in the gradual loss of sales of different coffee lattes.The Guardian analyzing the market demand has given Turmeric Latte a title – ‘2016’s drink of choice’. Google, too in its report of November 2015 to January 2016 has mentioned turmeric latte as a rising star as the search for turmeric saw a steep ascent of fifty six percent.
It is true that turmeric latte is creating  craze in foreign market, but turmeric latte is not something new to Indians. Turmeric latte is nothing but an improvised version of haldi doodh produced by mixing milk with ground haldi (turmeric). The addition which the cafes have introduced is mostly mixing honey, almonds and other test enhancing agents to make it more appealing to the takers.
It is quite interesting to note that there are various uses of turmeric, mostly being medicinal properties. Turmeric is known to cure a lot of diseases like Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer and ulcer. Turmeric has got so many medicinal properties that it is difficult to put all the uses in a one single article. This omnipotent herb has proved useful in traditional Ayurveda and now is playing a very significant role in the modern conventional development of medicine.
The concoction of haldi doodh or turmeric latte has immense anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties beneficial for keeping an individual healthy. It helps in reducing skin damage due to free radicals, helps combating bronchitis, sinus problems and also helps to purify blood and can keep body organs like skin, lung, breast, prostrate healthy.
The importance of turmeric in curing diseases is nothing new to the Indians. The articles and scripts written by both modern and ancient scholars stands testimony to the effective curative properties of turmeric. However today, it has become target of bio-piracy. The first attempt being in 1995 when two Indian scientists working in a leading American University applied for a patent for the method of healing by application of grounded turmeric on the wound. Though the applicants were granted the patent initially by United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), due to opposition by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of India, finally the USPTO disqualified the patent on ground that the use of turmeric for which the patent was filed is well known.
Sensing threat of bio-piracy, India took an initiative so as to nip this issue at its bud and it came up with TKDL otherwise known as Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (set up in collaboration between CSIR and Ministry of Ayush) whose main task is to transcribe and make available various ancient texts and books of India dealing in traditional knowledge (from various Indian languages into English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese languages so that the Patent and Trademark Offices of technologically advanced country can prevent bio-piracy in their home country). If one takes a look at TKDL one can understand its crucial role in India’s opposition to bio-piracy at international level.
However it is pertinent to note that TKDL is more dependent on the foreign patent offices in enforcing its protection against bio-piracy. At the International level there is a dearth of legal support for protection of traditional knowledge. The only treaty dealing with this is the Beijing Declaration of November 8, 2008 which was adopted by the WHO Congress on Traditional Medicine where a call has been given to the member countries to respect, promote and protect the traditional knowledge.
Traditional knowledge can be protected by two ways – one is by taking a defensive protection and the other by positive protection. What India is currently doing is more of a defensive protection by which India has set up TKDL and it is defeating the wrongful patent claim of foreign countries by making available to them all the historic texts in leading international languages. The second approach -that is the positive protection can be said to be more powerful which involves preventing unauthorized usage and active exploitation of the traditional knowledge. The second one, though more powerful than the former is the least exploited way.  India has a bitter experience with this too as can be understood from India’s failure to protect ‘Jeevani’ from bio-piracy.  Jeevani is an energy revival tonic or Ayurveda drug developed from leaves and fruits of a plant named Arogyapacha ,native to Kerala and more specifically known to the Kani community over ages. The Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI), developed this drug and formed a trust to promote development among the people of the Kani tribe and also implemented the process of revenue sharing under benefit sharing mechanism. However due to constraint of money the institute did not file for its patent with USPTO, which was exploited by various US based companies. These companies started producing an energy inducing drug by outsourcing the raw material from Indian based producers, other than Kani tribe. This resulted in considerable loss of revenue from a foreign source.
In case of turmeric latte, though it is part of traditional knowledge and needs to be protected, much cannot be done due to absence of a proper and stringent law for protection of traditional knowledge at International level. Thus, the same cannot be protected under existing intellectual property rights law and due to knowledge about haldi doodh for a long time, it cannot be even protected as trade secret. However WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore has taken an initiative to formulate and legislate a law for protection of traditional knowledge and currently the same is at the stage of negotiation.
What can be done in case of turmeric latte and other traditional knowledge infringement is that a benefit sharing mechanism can be brought forward by WIPO so as to give back a part of the revenue to the originating country or the community to be used for developmental purposes. In this particular case the restaurants and cafes should be bound by an agreement to share a particular percent from their revenue produced by selling turmeric latte in the market.
A lot can be done to protect India’s traditional knowledge at the international level and the Government has to take positive and immediate steps in this regard. The government should incorporate some sui generis laws and should allocate enough money for positive protection of its rich traditional knowledge, else the menace of bio-piracy cannot be stopped . It’s quite painful to see that the National IPR Policy that has been published recently by Government of India has little mention of traditional knowledge without giving much light as to what policies can be made so as to effectively protect traditional knowledge. The Government must consider the fact that proper exploitation of traditional Knowledge can bring a lot of revenue for the nation which to a large extent can mitigate the monetary deficit of this country.
Authored by Rounak Biswas
Sources 1, 2,3, 4, 5, 6
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