Bridging Past And Present: The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library

Posted On - 19 January, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva


In the ever-evolving landscape of digital knowledge repositories, one initiative stands out as an ideal example of preserving the essence of traditional wisdom in the digital realm – the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL).

Conceived in 2001 as a collaboration between the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)[1] and the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH), the TKDL aims to safeguard India’s rich traditional knowledge, particularly in the domains of medicinal plants and formulations.

Objectives Of TKDL

  • Preventing Inadequate Patents: The primary objective of TKDL is to hinder the grant of patents for innovations that lack significant inventive contributions, especially those heavily relying on traditional knowledge.
  • Bridging Ancient Wisdom and Examiners: Acting as a crucial link between ancient Sanskrit texts and modern patent examiners, TKDL ensures that the information is presented in a language and format that is easily comprehensible for patent professionals.
  • Enhancing Accessibility for Examiners: TKDL goes a step further by making information that might be challenging for patent examiners to access more readily available. This proactive approach aims to reduce the likelihood of patents being issued for modifications that offer only minor or trivial advancements.

Digitizing Centuries Of Wisdom

The TKDL was born out of the need to shield India’s traditional knowledge from bio-piracy and unauthorized patents.

With a multidisciplinary team comprising traditional medicine experts, patent examiners, IT professionals, scientists, and technical officers, the project embarked on digitizing and classifying the texts related to Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, and Yoga.

The extensive effort resulted in more than 34 million pages of documentation translated into multiple languages, including Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and English.

Noteworthy achievements include digitizing over a total of 448764 ISM formulations including 127533 in Ayurveda, 240850 in Unani, 70158 in Siddha, and 5445 in Sowa Rigpa, and 4778 in Yoga techniques[2].

The global reach expanded through agreements with renowned international patent offices such as:

  • the United Kingdom Trademark & Patent Office,
  • the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and
  • the European Patent Office.

Collaboration With Patent Offices

One of TKDL’s pivotal roles is its collaboration with various international patent offices. Beginning in 2006, overseas patent offices gained access to the library, empowering patent examiners to search and examine patents using TKDL’s extensive database. The European Patent Office (EPO), in particular, identified 36 patents leveraging Indian traditional knowledge and took steps to prevent their approval.

Recent Developments

As of March 25, 2022, the TKDL had transcribed 418,885 formulations, successfully leading to the withdrawal, amendment, or setting aside of 265 patent applications[3]. However, recent events cast a shadow on the TKDL’s efficacy. An opposition against Laila Impex’s herbal composition patent (IN201641013908)[4] ended in a surprising turn of events.

The TKDL, which had opposed the application, did not attend the hearing, raising questions about its effectiveness.

Challenges And Critiques

The effectiveness of the TKDL has faced careful examination, with debates on its utilization and value for taxpayers. Critics argue that the substantial investment, totaling over 2742.078 crores from 2017 to 2022 (as released by the Rajya Sabha)[5], might not align with the perceived benefits. A major concern revolves around the confidential nature of the TKDL database, currently only accessible by patent officers. There is an ongoing demand to make it available to institutions and researchers, highlighting the need for greater transparency.

Funds allocated and utilized for the TKDL over the five-year period[6]:

Financial Year Funds Allocated (in crores) Funds Utilized (in crores)
2017-18 Rs. 159.876 Rs. 159.876
2018-19 Rs. 433.325 Rs. 433.325
2019-20 Rs. 621.561 Rs. 621.561
2020-21 Rs.353.256 Rs.353.256
2021-22 Rs. 1174.06 Rs. 1174.06
Total Rs. 2742. 078 Rs. 2742. 078

Expanding Access

In a recent update, the Cabinet approved widening access[7] to the TKDL database beyond patent offices. The initiative aims to serve businesses, research institutions, educational entities, and researchers, among others. However, the move towards a paid subscription model raises questions about transparency in fund utilization and the creation of a ‘Traditional Knowledge Development Fund.’

Analysis Of Abandonment

The TKDL’s recent decision to abandon opposition in a patent case leaves room for analysis. Despite its objective of collaborating with patent offices and preventing misappropriation, TKDL’s absence at the hearing raises questions about the strength of its grounds for opposition. The incident prompted a broader reevaluation of TKDL’s approach.


TKDL stands as a commendable initiative, acting as a guardian against the potential misuse of traditional knowledge in the patenting process. Its journey reflects the delicate balance between preserving heritage and adapting to contemporary challenges.

Striking a balance between safeguarding traditional knowledge and ensuring efficient utilization of resources is crucial. The recent instance of TKDL abandoning opposition sparks a need for reevaluation, emphasizing the necessity for the initiative to evolve and adapt continually. As debates continue regarding the value of government funding in initiatives such as TKDL, it is important for these projects to showcase tangible advantages and ensure transparency in their operations.


Why is the TKDL important in the context of patenting traditional knowledge?

The TKDL plays a crucial role in preventing patents for innovations that lack significant breakthroughs based on traditional knowledge. By connecting Sanskrit manuscripts with the language of modern patent examiners, it serves as a barrier against the granting of patents for inventions that lack novelty.

How does the TKDL contribute to preventing the misappropriation of traditional knowledge on a global scale?

TKDL serves as a global safeguard by providing patent examiners with accessible information in languages they understand, minimizing the likelihood of patents being granted for inventions involving only minor modifications. Its collaboration with international patent offices reinforces its role in protecting traditional knowledge from misappropriation.

What challenges does TKDL face, and how can it adapt to evolving needs?

Despite its achievements, recent discussions raise questions about TKDL’s effectiveness. The decision to widen access through a paid subscription model prompts considerations about transparency and fund utilization. Adapting to evolving expectations and addressing concerns about opposition effectiveness will be crucial for TKDL’s continued relevance.








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