Hair loss patent suitAn interesting legal battle, which could have long-term ramifications for the hair loss industry, is being played out in Canada at the moment.

Island Laboratories Inc, a company in Newfoundland, filed a patent for a medical formulation which promised hair growth and improvement in hair and scalp health a few years ago.

The problem was, the formula contains extracts from plants such as veratrum, buxus, holarrhena, solarium, and rauwolfia – which have been used in traditional Indian hair care ‘products’ for centuries.

What’s the problem?

Upon hearing of the patent, the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library – an Indian-based representative database that acts to prevent foreign companies claiming sub-continental practices and concoctions as their own – swung into action and challenged the patent.

And after nine years of claim and counter-claim, the courts have finally ruled against Island Laboratories and denied them a patent on their product.

Patently unoriginal

The TKDL undertook some extreme digging in their libraries to prove that the Canadian company’s formula was nothing new. For example, they cited references from an 800 year-old book by Aminuddaulah Abul Farj Ibn Al-Quff Maseehi to prove that veratrum has been used as a treatment for alopecia for ages.

As the patent examiner put it; “when therapeutic effects of claimed plants are already known as traditional knowledge, the claim cannot be considered as inventive.”

So why do they do this? Because if the patent had gone through, thousands of Indian companies who already use the plant extracts would have found it difficult to sell their own hair care products – even in their own country.

So while Island Laboratories have been forced back to the drawing board, we might just have to start digging around the local Indian supermarkets to find out what the fuss is all about.

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By Ian Watson

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