This article analyzes India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) as a potential intervention in the administration of patent law. The TKDL is a database including a vast body of traditional medical knowledge from India, aiming to prevent the patenting and misappropriation of that knowledge. This article contextualizes the TKDL in relation to documentation theory as well as to existing research on the uses of databases to protect traditional knowledge. It explores the TKDL’s potential consequences for India’s traditional medical knowledge and the wider implications that traditional knowledge databases can have for the safeguarding of traditional knowledge in general. The article concludes that on the one hand the TKDL bridges the gap between the main branches of Indian traditional medicine and the formal knowledge system of International Patent Classifications. Furthermore, it has also inspired revisions of the International Patent Classification system, which makes it better adapted to incorporate traditional medical knowledge. On the other hand, critical research on traditional knowledge documentation argues that traditional knowledge databases, like the TKDL, can decontextualize the knowledge they catalogue and dispossess its original owners. The TKDL, however, also fits into a national, Indian agenda of documenting and modernizing traditional medicine that predates the formation of the TKDL by several decades and challenges the dichotomy between traditional and scientific knowledge systems that originally motivated the formation of the TKDL.
Martin Fredriksson, India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library and the Politics of Patent Classifications, Law and Critique (2021). Published: 12 June 2021.