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THE AYAHUASCA CASE

Vine of the soul
For innumerous generations, shamans of indigenous tribes in the western Amazon Basin have processed the plant Banisteriopsis caapi to produce a ceremonial drink known as "ayahuasca". The shamans use ayahuasca (which means "vine of the soul") in religious and healing ceremonies to diagnose and treat illnesses, meet with spirits, and divine the future.

Banisteriopsis caapi - the vine Banisteriopsis caapi - the flower

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

 

"Da Vine" - discovery of Loren Miller?
An American, Loren Miller obtained a US Patent in June 1986, granting him rights over an alleged variety of B. caapi he had called "Da Vine". The patent description states that the "plant was discovered growing in a domestic garden in the Amazon rainforest of South America." The patentee claimed that Da Vine represented a new and distinct variety of B. caapi, primarily because of the flower color.

1999 - patent annulled
The Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) - an umbrella organization representing over 400 indigenous groups - learned of the patent in 1994. On their behalf the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) filed a re-examination request on the patent. CIEL protested that a review of the prior art revealed that Da Vine was neither new nor distinct. They argued also that the granting of the patent would be contrary to the public and morality aspects of the Patent Act because of the sacred nature of Banisteriopsis caapi throughout the Amazon region.
Extensive, new information was presented by CIEL, and in November 1999, the USPTO rejected the patent claim agreeing that Da Vine was not distinguishable from the prior art presented by CIEL and therefore the patent should never have been issued.

2001 - patent stands again
However, further arguments by the patentee persuaded the USPTO to reverse its decision and announce in early 2001 that the patent should stand. Because of the date of filing of the patent, it was not covered by the new rules in the US on "inter partes" re-examination. CIEL were therefore unable to comment on the arguments made by the patentee that led to the patent being upheld," commented the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights" in London. **

Protest
Indigenous peoples continue protesting against this patent. So did BENKI ASHANINKA, the representative of the Amazonian indigenous people ASHANINKA at the international workshop "Growing Diversity" in may of 2002 in Rio Branco, Acre: " ...this shows the lack of consciousness and respect for other cultures ." (Click here for the full text)

Commerce in the US - plantations in Hawaii
Ayahuasca is also used in religions like "Santo Daime" and "União do Vegetal" These religions were founded in Brazil in the last century and have spread the use of ayahuasca all over the world.
In the US the drink was classified as an illegal substance because it contains the hallucinogenic dimethyltriptamin (DMT). In august 2002 it became legalized for religious purposes. Since then the commerce of the so called "Caapi Vine" is growing. The plantations are located in the US and in Hawaii.
(click here for an on-line sale of American Caapi Vine)



"DA VINE" PATENT (AYAHUASCA)
Registered by
Registered
where
Publication date
Title
Number
(Click the number for more information from esp@cenet)
MILLER LOREN S (US) * USA 17/06/1986 Banisteriopsis caapi (cv) 'Da Vine' US 5751P

*We do not know if, or to what extent the term biopiracy applies to each of the holders of patents and trademarks here mentioned. However we consider questionable the patenting and registering of trademarks over plants that are traditionally used by the inghabitants of the Amazon. We invite the holders of these rights to write a comment to defend themselves.
Amazonlink.org does not accept any responsibility for possible consequences of errors or omissions in the provided information.

**Bibliography:

  • Integrating Intellectual Property Rights and Development Policy.
  • Report of the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights.
  • Commission on Intellectual Property Rights. London 2002

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