Dear Sci-arters:

Thought this might be of interest to those who like intellectual property
twists and turns.  Hope for those who feel their own intellectual property
was usurped.

                                                Sincerly, Miriam

Student Ethnobotany Network -

Date: Thu, 04 Nov 1999 12:44:35 -0500
From: Kristen Genovese <[log in to unmask]>
Organization: CIEL
To: [log in to unmask]


Indigenous Leaders, Legal Experts Hail Decision to Cancel "Flawed
Patent" on Sacred Plant from the Amazon, But Call for Reforms to Prevent
Future Abuses

Washington, D.C.  - Indigenous peoples from nine South American
countries won a precedent-setting victory yesterday, as the U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office (PTO) canceled the patent issued to a U.S. citizen
for the "ayahuasca" vine.

The plant, Banisteriopsis caapi, is native to the Amazonian rainforest.
Thousands of indigenous people of the region use it in sacred religious
and healing ceremonies, as part of their traditional religions.

The PTO's decision came in response to a request for reexamination of
the patent filed with the PTO in March by the Coordinating Body for the
Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), the Coalition for
Amazonian Peoples and Their Environment, and lawyers at the Center for
International Environmental Law (CIEL).

"Our Shamans and Elders were greatly troubled by this patent. Now they
are celebrating. This is an historic day for indigenous peoples
verywhere," says Antonio Jacanamijoy, General Coordinator of COICA.
According to David Rothschild, director of the Amazon Coalition, "Given
that ayahuasca is used in sacred indigenous ceremonies throughout the
Amazon, this patent never should have been issued in the first place."

The PTO based its rejection of the patent on the fact that publications
describing Banisteriopsis caapi were "known and available" prior to the
filing of the patent application.   According to patent law, no
invention can be patented if described in printed publications more than
one year prior to the date of the patent application.  William Anderson,
director of the University of Michigan Herbarium, agreed that the PTO
needs to improve its procedures for researching applications.

CIEL lawyer David Downes noted that "while we are pleased that the PTO
has cancelled this flawed patent, we are concerned that the PTO still
has not dealt with the flaws in its policies that made it possible for
someone to patent this plant in the first place."  He explained that
"the PTO needs to change its rules to prevent future patent claims based
on the traditional knowledge and use of a plant by indigenous
peoples."   He also argued that "the PTO should face the issue head-on
of whether it is ethical for patent applicants to claim private rights
over a plant or knowledge that is sacred to a cultural or ethnic group."

In a separate proceeding at the PTO, the three groups have called for
changes in PTO rules.  They argue that the PTO should require that
patent applicants identify all biological resources and traditional
knowledge that they used in developing the claimed invention.
Applicants should also disclose the geographical origin, and provide
evidence that the source country and indigenous community consented to
its use.

Carol Brandt
Program Coordinator
Undergraduate Advising, Recruitment and Retention
Department of Biology, University of New Mexico
Room 218 Castetter Hall
Albuquerque, NM 87131
[log in to unmask]
phone: 505/277-4392
FAX: 505/277-0304

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