This article has been written by Shubham Khandelwal pursuing BBA.LLB from IP UNIVERSITY. In the below-given article, you’ll all get to know the necessary information about What is biopiracy, its examples, resources, legal aspects, Indian scenario, related cases, and many things more.

Bioprospecting (also referred to as biodiversity prospecting) is that the exploration of natural sources for little molecules, macromolecules, and biochemical and genetic information that would be developed into commercially valuable products for the agricultural, aquaculture, bioremediation, cosmetics, nanotechnology, or pharmaceutical industries. within the pharmaceutical industry, for instance, almost one-third of all small-molecule drugs approved by the U.S.

Terrestrial plants, fungi, and actinobacteria are the main targets of the many past bioprospecting programs, but interest is growing in less explored ecosystems (eg. seas and oceans) and organisms (eg. myxobacteria, archaea) as a way of identifying new compounds with novel biological activities. Species could also be randomly screened for bioactivity or rationally selected and screened supported ecological, ethnobiological, ethnomedical, historical, or genomic information.

The term biopiracy was coined by Pat Mooney, to explain a practice during which indigenous knowledge of nature, originating with indigenous peoples, is employed by others for profit, without authorization or compensation to the indigenous people themselves. for instance, when bioprospectors draw on indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants which is later patented by medical companies without recognizing the very fact that the knowledge isn’t new or invented by the patentee, this deprives the indigenous community of their potential rights to the commercial product derived from the technology that they themselves had developed. Critics of this practice, like Greenpeace, claim these practices contribute to inequality between developing countries rich in biodiversity, and developed countries hosting biotech firms.

In the 1990s many large pharmaceutical and drug discovery companies skilled charges of biopiracy by ceasing work on natural products, turning to combinatorial chemistry to develop novel compounds.

Examples of Biopiracy

Biopiracy of African super-sweet berries: A plant, Pentadiplandra brazzein found within the west of South Africa. It’s an important source of protein mentioned as Brazzein. People there utilize it as a low-calorie sweetener. it’s cognized to be much sweeter than sugar (approximately two thousand times). Recent developments involve isolation of the gene encoding brazzein that has been sequenced and patented within the USA.

Patenting of neem – Neem: Since the past, Neem has proved to be useful in several ways. Indians have shared their knowledge regarding neem across the world. Within the year 1994, U.S. Department, W.R. Grace received an EU patent that included various methods that are used for controlling fungal infections in plants by employing a composition extracted from neem.

Biopiracy of the Enola bean: Enola bean was named after the death of Larry Proctor, who made its patents in 1999. Enola bean may be a variation of the Mexican wax bean. The sales of this bean were commercialized in North Mexico. Thereby, farmers faced depression. A lawsuit was filed by farmers and therefore the result was in favor of farmers as ruled by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

 The rosy periwinkle: The rosy periwinkle was originally found in Madagascar. Now, it’s been introduced to many other tropical countries across the world. The researchers can initiate and obtain knowledge from one nation’s plant samples to other nations.

Resources and Products

  • Agriculture

Annonin-based biopesticides, wont to protect crops from beetles and other pests, were developed from the plant sweetsop.

Bioprospecting-derived resources and products utilized in agriculture include biofertilizers, biopesticides, and veterinary antibiotics. Rhizobium may be a genus of soil bacteria used as biofertilizers, Bacillus thuringiensis (also called Bt) and therefore the annonins (obtained from seeds of the plant Annona squamosa) are samples of biopesticides, and valnemulin and tiamulin (discovered and developed from the basidiomycete fungus Clitopilus passeckerianus) are samples of veterinary antibiotics.

  • Bioremediation

Examples of bioprospecting products utilized in bioremediation include Coriolopsis gallica- and Phanerochaete chrysosporium-derived laccase enzymes, used for treating beer factory wastewater and for dechlorinating and decolorizing factory effluent.

  • Cosmetics and private care

Cosmetics and private care products obtained from bioprospecting include Porphyridium cruentum-derived oligosaccharide and oligoelement blends wont to treat erythema (rosacea, flushing and dark circles),Xanthobacter autotrophicus-derived zeaxanthin used for hydration and UV protection of skin, Clostridium histolyticum-derived collagenases used for regeneration of the skin, and Microsporum-derived keratinases is used for hair removal.

  • Nanotechnology and biosensors

Because microbial laccases have a broad substrate range, they will be utilized in biosensor technology to detect a good range of organic compounds. For instance, laccase-containing electrodes are wont to detect polyphenolic compounds in wine, and lignins and phenols in wastewater.


Many of the antibacterial drugs that are currently used in clinics were discovered through bioprospecting including the β-lactam antibiotics, aminoglycosides, tetracyclines, amphenicols, polymyxins, macrolides, pleuromutilins, glycopeptides, rifamycins, streptogramins, and phosphonic acid antibiotics. The aminoglycoside antibiotic streptomycin, for instance, was discovered from the soil bacterium Streptomyces griseus, the fusidate antibiotic fusidic acid was discovered from the soil fungus Acremonium fusidioides, and therefore the pleuromutilin antibiotics (eg. lefamulin) were discovered and developed in the basidiomycete fungus Clitopilus passeckerianus.

Other samples of bioprospecting-derived anti-infective drugs include the antifungal drug griseofulvin (discovered from the soil fungus Penicillium griseofulvum), the antifungal and antileishmanial drug amphotericin B (discovered from the soil bacterium Streptomyces nodosus), the antimalarial artemisinin (discovered from the plant Artemisia annua), and therefore the antihelminthic drug ivermectin (developed from the soil bacterium Streptomyces avermitilis).

Indian Scenario

In an effort to guard the interest of indigenous communities, the Indian Parliament has passed several legislations for the past few decades. The National Biodiversity Act, 2002 is aimed toward protecting lore by regulating the use of such information by a foreigner, Indian citizen, and body corporate controlled by a foreigner/Indian citizen. However, while this act aims to guard indigenous knowledge, it’s been subjected to immense criticism supporting its inherent shortcomings. one of its major flaws is that it doesn’t give sufficient consideration to conservation and lays undisputed emphasis on preventing profit-sharing from the commercial use of the biological resources. While it’s true that the sub-stratum of the act is aimed toward preventing biopiracy by developed nations, the most important goal is to guard biodiversity. Another highly criticized provision mandates that an aggrieved benefit claimer is required to offer prior notice of its intention to form a complaint. Otherwise, a private is required to file a complaint to the National Biodiversity Authority, which can then take necessary action. The absence of locus standi to all or any citizens is concerning. Other legislations propagating the aforementioned cause include Section 3(p) of the Indian Patent Act 1970, which bars patent protection for inventions involving the use of lore or any duplication or aggregation of this data. Further, there’s the protection provided under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act 2001, Geographical Indication of products (Registration and Protection) Act 1999, and Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006.

Indira Gandhi stated in one of her hottest speeches: “The idea of a better-ordered world is one during which medical discoveries are going to be freed from patents and there’ll be no profiteering from life and death.” With the evolution of society, IP rights have formed an integral part of the development of the knowledge economy.

Further, “if they’re scared of revision within the laboratory, the truth will never be released except by accident”, a highly potent phrase by Barbara W Tuchman encapsulates the concept of biopiracy, in its present form. With the politicization of science, indigenous protection has been placed on the rear burner. The talk around biopiracy isn’t a replacement one, yet it continues to stay as prevalent because it was over half a century ago. because the world remains divided in its threshold of morality and ethics, so does the scientific community. While inherent shortcomings within the said agreements are often easily resolved through amendments, the difficulty of biopiracy will still attract a horizon of views, subject to inclination and sensibilities of people also as communities. Lastly, a permanent solution is going to be achieved when the yawning gap between the developing and therefore the developed countries is closed.

Legal and Political aspects

  1. Patent law

One basic and common misunderstanding is pharmaceutical companies patent the plants they collect. While obtaining a patent on a present organism as previously known or used isn’t possible, patents could also be taken out on specific chemicals isolated or developed from plants. Often these patents are obtained with a stated and researched the use of these chemicals.[citation needed] Generally the existence, structure, and synthesis of these compounds isn’t a neighborhood of the indigenous medical knowledge that led researchers to research the plant within the first place. As a result, albeit the indigenous medical knowledge is taken as prior art, that knowledge doesn’t by itself make the active compound “obvious,” which is that the standard applied under jurisprudence.

In the US, jurisprudence is often wont to protect “isolated and purified” compounds – even, in one instance, a replacement element (see USP 3,156,523). In 1873, Pasteur patented a “yeast” which was “free from disease” (patent #141072). Patents covering biological inventions are treated similarly. reasoning that U.S. law permits patents on “anything under the sun that’s made by man.” The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has observed that “a patent on a gene covers the isolated and purified gene but doesn’t cover the gene because it occurs in nature”.

2.Bioprospecting contracts

The needs of bioprospecting are set by CBD and have created a replacement branch of international patent and trade law, bioprospecting contracts. Bioprospecting contracts lay down the principles of benefit-sharing between researchers and countries and may bring royalties to lesser-developed countries. It would be difficult to make sure every individual is included. Due to this, some have proposed that the indigenous or other communities form a kind of representative micro-government that might negotiate with researchers to make contracts in such a way that the community benefits from the arrangements. Unethical bioprospecting contracts (as distinct from ethical ones) are often viewed as a replacement sort of biopiracy.

Cases of Biopiracy

  • Patenting of Neem

The patents of the fungicidal properties of Neem was a blatant example of biopiracy. But on 10th May, the ecu Patent and Trademark Office Database (EPO) revoked the patent (0436257 B1) granted to us Department of Agriculture and therefore the multinational corporation W. R. Grace for a way of controlling fungi on plants by the help of an extract of seeds from the neem. The challenge to the patent of Neem was made at the Munich Office of the EPO by 3 groups: the ECU Parliament’s Green Party, Dr. Vandana Shiva of RFSTE, and therefore the International Federation of Organic Agriculture and challenged it on the grounds of “lack of novelty and inventive step”. They demanded the invalidation of the patent among others on the bottom that the fungicide qualities of the Neem and its use have been known in India for over 2000 years, and to be used to form insect repellents, soaps, cosmetics and contraceptives and therefore the neem patent was finally revoked.

  • Syngenta’s Attempt at Biopiracy of India’s rice diversity

Syngenta, the biotech giant, tried to grab the valuable collections of twenty-two,972 sorts of paddy, India’s rice diversity, from Chattisgarh in India. It had signed an MoU with the Gandhi Agricultural University (IGAU) for access to Dr. Richharia’s priceless collection of rice diversity which he had taken care of as if the rice varieties were his own children.

  • ConAgra’s Biopiracy claim on Atta (Wheat flour)

Atta, is a  staple food and made in India, is now under threat from the corporation ConAgra who has filed a novel patent (patent no 6,098,905) claiming their rights to the atta processing method, and was granted the patent on August 8th, 2000. The tactic that ConAgra is saying to be novel has been used throughout South Asia by thousands of atta chakkis, they cannot justly be claimed as a completely unique patent.

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