Patent Revoked on Sacred Ayahuasca Plant


In November 1999 the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) re-examined and rejected a 1986 patent claim by a U.S. citizen to the Ayahuasca plant, Banisteriopsis caapi, which has religious uses among the groups indigenous to the Amazon (see Colombia Update, Vol. 11, Nos. 1&2, Summer/Fall 1999). The claim had been challenged by indigenous tribes from several Amazonian countries, grouped in the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon (COICA), along with the Coalition for the Amazonian Peoples and their Environment and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). The PTO ruling was grounded on the scientific finding that the 1986 claim described cultivars that could not be distinguished from others previously described. The ruling helps to forestall the private appropriation, outside of their communities, of the potential economic benefit to be derived from centuries-old traditions of tribal and indigenous peoples, as well as the commodification of traditional cultural values.

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