Pubdate: Fri, 05 Nov 1999
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 1999 Associated Press
Author: David Ho, Associated Press Writer


WASHINGTON - The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office suspended a
California man's 13-year-old patent for a hallucinogenic plant
Thursday because of a challenge from South American groups claiming
the plant sacred to Indians.

The plant, Banisteriopsis Caapi, a vine found in the Amazonian rain
forests, is used to make a mind-altering drink known as ayahuasca
(eye-ah-wah-ska). While used by South American Indians for religious
and healing ceremonies, the plant has often been sought by
anthropologists, botanists and drug enthusiasts interested in its
psychoactive properties.

In 1986, the Patent Office issued patent No. PP5,751 to Loren Miller,
whose patent abstract calls the plant ``Da Vine'' and says it is
characterized by its ``medicinal properties.''

The Patent Office suspended the patent because of evidence the plant
had been described in publications more than a year before the
original patent application. Miller was unavailable for comment.

The Center for International Environmental Law and two Amazonian
groups issued the challenge, saying that U.S. patent law is flawed to
have allowed the patent.

``The PTO needs to change its rules to prevent future patent claims
based on the traditional knowledge and use of a plant by indigenous
peoples,'' David Downes, a lawyer for the challenging groups, said in
a statement.

The suspension prohibits Miller from exercising his patent rights for
six months, said Patent Office Spokeswoman Brigid Quinn. If Miller
fails to counter the challenge within that time by presenting his own
evidence, the patent will be permanently rejected.

In the 1971 book ``The Yage Letters,'' beat-generation writers Allen
Ginsberg and William Burroughs described their often-frightening
episodes under ayahuasca's influence in Colombia and Peru in the 1950s
and 1960s.

Since then, Ayahuasca use has spread beyond the rain forest and many
Internet sites now exist dedicated to describing its affects.

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