US mangosteen patent bid challenged

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Author: GRAIN
Date: 02 August 2006
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GRAIN | 02 August 2006 | BIO-IPR (1997-2009)


TITLE: US patent bid challenged AUTHORS: Phusadee Arunmas & Woranuj Maneerungsee PUBLICATION: Bangkok Post DATE: 28 July 2006 URL: http://www.bangkokpost.com/280706_Business/28Jul2006_biz42. php


Intellectual property | Mangosteen extract

US PATENT BID CHALLENGED

Phusadee Arunmas & Woranuj Maneerungsee

Thailand will submit research on mangosteen to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to try to stop an American food company from taking out patents based on the popular fruit. US-based Nature's Sunshine Products, a producer of herbal and food supplements, applied for patents for drinks made from mangosteen extracts on Oct 27, 2004.

A search of patents registered with the USPTO showed dozens of existing patents and applications related to mangosteen and related extracts, some granted years ago covering various medicinal and commercial applications.

According to Kanissorn Navanugraha, the director-general of the Intellectual Property Department, extracting mangosteen for beverages was part of Thai 'traditional wisdom'.

'I will submit to the US authorities that Thais have been using traditional knowledge to derive extracts from mangosteen for a long time,' he said.

'If the process submitted [by the US firm] is not different from Thai practices, then they should not receive the patent.'

While mangosteen, known as the 'queen of fruits', is not unique to Thailand, it is a key economic crop, with exports of fresh fruit worth around 700 million baht last year.

Mr Kanissorn said the Intellectual Property Department, the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Development Department and the Public Health Ministry would fight the patent attempt by the US company.

In any case, the patent-pending status of the US application would not affect current research and development on mangosteen extract and other products, as a patent could only protect specific formulas.

He said three patent applications had been filed in Thailand regarding mangosteen extracts and beverages, two by Thais and one by a Japanese firm.

The Japanese application concerns a distillation process for mangosteen extract, while the Thai applications deal with the production of beverages. The applications, filed over the past 12 months, have yet to be approved.

Two other Thai companies have also submitted patent applications for the production of mangosteen wine and purees based on the fruit.

Vitoon Lianchamroon of Biothai, a local non-government organisation, said authorities should contest the US patent application to protect the interests of local farmers, as mangosteen ranks among the top 10 Thai fruit exports.

'Thai food producers will certainly be affected in the future if the US approves the patent,' Mr Vitoon said. 'It's widely known among Thais that mangosteen has medicinal properties. I'm concerned that if this patent is granted, then efforts to develop its use will be halted.'

Mr Vitoon said the case highlighted the importance of protecting traditional knowledge and the country's biological resources.

He noted that while many countries were signatories of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, they continued to ignore its regulations.

Thai authorities could alternatively petition the World Trade Organisation to make its case, as patent protection is an element of Trips, or trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.


GOING FURTHER (compiled by GRAIN)

Petchanet Pratruangkrai, Arthit Khwankhom, "Letter to state Thai case", The Nation, Bangkok, 28 July 2006.
http://nationmultimedia.com/2006/07/28/national/national_30 009754.php

Arthit Khwankhom, "Mangosteen case raises concerns", The Nation, Bangkok, 27 July 2006.
http://nationmultimedia.com/2006/07/27/national/national_30 009689.php

US Patent Application No. 20060088643, "Neutraceutical composition containing mangosteen pericarp extract ", published by USPTO on 27 April 2006.
http://tinyurl.co.uk/fln5

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