In such cases of what’s known as biopiracy, indigenous people are excluded from sharing profits created from their knowledge of biological materials. It’s not easy information to protect: it takes an average of five to seven years to oppose an internationally granted patent, costing up to USD 600,000.
15 years ago, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, an international drug company struck a deal to share profits with the Kani tribe from an herb called Arogyapacha. Known as “the plant that gives strength”, it was used by the Kani to gain energy, and the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI) sought to commercialize it through Arya Vaidya Pharmacy in a drug called Jeevani. But when land use restrictions prevented the Kani from selling the plant to Arya Vaidya, the company went with another source, cutting the Kani out. TBGRI sold the Kani’s knowledge to Arya Vaidya.