Holy cow! So many patents

ICAR and CSIR lab­o­ra­to­ries are help­ing a Nag­pur cow re­search in­sti­tute to patent ther­a­pies based on cow exc­reta

Down to Earth - - COLUMN - PATENTLY AB­SURD LATHA JISHNU

GOVIGYAN ANUSANDHAN Ken­dra in De­o­la­par, a small town in the Nag­pur dis­trict of Ma­ha­rash­tra, is a cow re­search in­sti­tute that would put some of the lab­o­ra­to­ries of the In­dian Coun­cil of Agri­cul­tural Re­search (icar) to shame. Just 20 years old, it has six patents to its credit: five from the US and one from China. These patents re­late to the use of the cow’s ex­cre­tions—urine, dung and milk—for ther­a­peu­tic uses. The Ken­dra doesn’t boast any In­dian patent yet but then our rules on patentabil­ity as every­one knows are much stricter than in the de­vel­oped world.

Govigyan Ken­dra is clearly priv­i­leged. It has 25 hectares of ver­dant land in Ramtek tehsil where it looks af­ter some aban­doned cows and also runs a clinic of­fer­ing cow reme­dies for sick peo­ple. It has re­search tie-ups with pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions of icar and of the Coun­cil of Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search (csir) in its mis­sion to cre­ate “aware­ness about In­dian cow and res­ur­rect the self-sus­tain­ing Bharatiya (In­dian) way of farm­ing”. Its re­search is ded­i­cated to “find­ing so­lu­tions from cow prod­ucts for hu­mans, agri­cul­ture, en­vi­ron­ment and ecol­ogy”, ac­cord­ing to its web­site. The idea pri­mar­ily is “to de­velop In­dian cow-based way of life for farm­ers”.

That goal may be a long way off but the Ken­dra has al­ready made its mark with five patents, all for prod­ucts de­rived from go­mu­tra or cow’s urine. One of the patents granted in the US in 2005 is for the “use of bioac­tive frac­tion from cow urine dis­til­late as a bio-en­hancer of anti-in­fec­tive, anti-can­cer agents and nu­tri­ents”. The in­ven­tion, it says, re­lates to a novel phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­po­si­tion com­pris­ing an ef­fec­tive amount of bio-ac­tive frac­tion from cow urine dis­til­late as a bioavail­abil­ity fa­cil­i­ta­tor and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cally ac­cept­able ad­di­tives se­lected from anti-can­cer com­pounds, an­tibi­otics, drugs, ther­a­peu­tic and nu­traceu­tic agents. Al­though the Ken­dra would have us be­lieve that it is a cure for can­cer, what the patent de­scrip­tion boils down to is that it can en­hance the ef­fects of mod­ern can­cer drugs.

Cu­ri­ously, while the Ken­dra claims the six patents as its own, a pe­rusal of the patent ab­stracts re­veals that all the patents have been as­signed to csir. The key to un­der­stand­ing this part­ner­ship is R A Mashelkar, one of In­dia’s top sci­en­tists who headed csir for 11 years from 1995, and was closely in­volved with Govigyan Ken­dra. That pe­riod was largely co-ter­mi­nus with the first Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp)-led govern­ment and led to some shady re­search on go­mu­tra by csir labs in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Ken­dra. There was quite a bit of spec­u­la­tion on what In­dia’s lead­ing bof­fin was up to. That part­ner­ship is much stronger now. In April 2014, Mashelkar steered a ma­jor ini­tia­tive of the Ken­dra for ex­am­in­ing the scope of re­search­ing pan­cha­gavya Ayurvedic medicines for “a bet­ter sys­tem of health”. Pan­cha­gavya lit­er­ally means five prod­ucts of the cow: milk, curd, ghee, dung and urine.

The pan­cha­gavya project is now a mam­moth un­der­tak­ing. It brings to­gether all the big guns of the sci­en­tific es­tab­lish­ment from the Depart­ment of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Depart­ment of Biotech­nol­ogy, to the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy-Delhi, and of course, csir. Other min­istries and de­part­ments of the govern­ment, along with aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, re­search labs will all work to­gether to sci­en­tif­i­cally val­i­date not just the man­i­fold uses of pan­cha­gavya but also the “unique­ness of in­dige­nous cows”. Pan­cha­gavya in­ci­den­tally is widely used by or­ganic farm­ers who shun chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides and fer­tilis­ers. Help­ing them will be the well-funded Govigyan Ken­dra which in 2004 was re­ported to have re­ceived dona­tions of $500,000 for its re­search.

What makes the Ken­dra part of the elect? It is a unit run by the Vishwa Hindu Par­ishad, an arm of the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh or rss which is the par­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion of the rul­ing bjp. Very likely, this project will re­sult in more patents, even from our patent con­troller. Long live the In­dian cow.

SORIT / CSE

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