An American company, W R Grace applied for a patent on the fungicidal product made from the seeds of the Neem tree. The European Patents Office (EPO) granted the patent, which was then contested by three people: Vandana Shiva, Linda Bullard (former president of IFOAM) and Madga Aelvoet (President of Greens in the European Parliament) for biopiracy. Neem leaves, seeds, bark, oil have for centuries been used for their fungicidal properties – the idea about using Neem seeds was based on traditional knowledge and not something the company had come up with. This case was fought for 10 years and the patent was finally revoked.
“W R Grace's patent gives the company exclusive rights to methods of extracting stable chemical compounds for use in pesticides. Yet, Indian villagers have been extracting the tree's chemical for pesticidal uses via similar processes for several centuries. Indian villagers used water and alcohol solvents years ahead of the company's patented processes. Even W R Grace itself acknowledges that India's traditional knowledge inspired the company's patent. This prior use is well documented and should invalidate the patent." Read more
In order to counter such biopiracy, Navdanya has started Jaiv Panchayats (living democracies) that would document community knowledge, in order to have a sort of library of various traditions and practices. Such a resource would not only help share community knowledge, it would also be useful in fighting cases of biopiracy.
More on the Neem biopiracy case here.