What is IP?

Intellectual Property or ‘IP’, refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, and symbols. IP can be an invention, a trade mark, a design, or the practical application of your idea. IP rights provide protection for your ideas in the marketplace and allow you as the owner or inventor to benefit commercially. IP rights are a very valuable business asset and provide a competitive advantage.

What IP do you use in your business? It might be your unique products, a new way you produce something or the special branding that you use to identify your business.

'Indigenous Knowledge' or ‘IK’ is a term we use to cover a range of knowledge held and continually developed by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. It can include such things as language, song, dance, stories, songlines, art, and knowledge of plants, science, medicines and agriculture. Some aspects of Indigenous Knowledge may be protected using IP.

There are 7 types of IP and each protects a different type of creation or innovation.

Patents

A patent protects new products, methods or processes

Patent basics >

What is a patent? >

Trade marks

A trade mark protects brand names and logos

Trade mark basics >

What is a trade mark? >

Design rights

A design right protects how a product looks

Design basics >

What is a design? >

Plant Breeder’s rights

Plant breeder’s rights protect new plant varieties

Plant Breeders right basics >

What is a plant breeders right >

Copyright

Copyright protects the original expression of an idea put in material form

Copyright basics >

Copyright Council >

Trade Secrets

Any confidential information, including secret formulas, processes, and methods used in production

Trade Secrets >

Circuit Layouts

Layout designs or plans of integrated circuits used in computer-generated designs

Circuit layouts >

IP rights don’t holistically protect all IK, but they can help with commercialisation, such as when a new artwork, unique business logo, or an invention is based on IK. If you are using IK as a starting point or inspiration and creating something new, unique and innovative that might mean IP protection is available for that creation.

IK has cultural and economic value. If you’re running a business, you should consider appropriate strategies when working with IK to help protect, maintain and commercialise it. Having conversations in community about how IK should be used in business might be something you want to do before trying to get protection through the IP system.

Like a piece of physical property, your IP rights are owned by you and can be sold or licensed to others. Good IP management helps small business grow into larger more successful businesses.

It's important to understand your individual business journey and how your IP may help you gain a commercial advantage.

View more information on Types of IP

What is IK?

We use 'Indigenous Knowledge' or ‘IK’ as a term to cover a range of knowledge held and continually developed by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. It includes:

TCEs are sometimes referred to as 'folklore' and include languages, music, performances, songlines, stories, dance, symbols, designs, visual art, crafts and architecture.
TK refers to knowledge resulting from intellectual activity in a traditional context and includes know-how, practices, skills and innovations. This can be in a range of contexts such as agricultural, scientific, technical, ecological, medicinal and biodiversity-related knowledge. It includes knowledge about genetic resources.

Even though the word ‘traditional’ is used to describe these concepts, it is important to remember that they are not static; they are continually used and built upon.

If you are interested in learning more about Traditional Cultural Expressions or Traditional Knowledge, you can find more information from the World Intellectual Property Office.

Are you an Indigenous business?

If you own an Indigenous business or are thinking about starting an Indigenous business. Here are some tips for you.

Coming up with a business idea is so exciting, but when it comes to making the idea reality, it can also be overwhelming. IP Australia can help you with your Intellectual Property needs for your business, and we have collated some information and links to help you on your business journey. We have included some places you can go to for mentoring, support, and more information.

Guide to starting an Indigenous business

Information on starting an indigenous business.

Guide to starting a business

A step-by-step guide on starting a business.

Developing a business plan

Putting your ideas into a business plan.

Registering your business name

You can register your business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Registering your trade mark

Protect your business name with a trade mark.

Securing your domain name

Ensure that you can secure your online presence with something recognisable as your business name/trade mark.

Getting business support

Indigenous Business Australia can provide information on mentoring and funding available to support your business.

Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

Depending on your business idea, it might be useful to consider using a non-disclosure agreement when talking to manufacturers or funding partners.

Thinking about protecting your ideas through IP rights (all the IP rights)

When thinking about your business idea and planning, it is important you consider other ways to protect your IP.

Australian Tax Office (ATO)

When you start a business, there are taxation and superannuation considerations to be aware of.

Indigenous Regional Network (IRN)

(IRN) showcases success stories from Indigenous businesses. IRN can also connect you to other businesses or government programs to help develop your business.

Once you have your business administration and support in place, it is time to think about investment, prototyping your products (if creating a tangible good) and manufacturing your products. Some useful links can be found below:

Getting business support

Indigenous Business Australia can provide information on mentoring and funding available to support your business.

Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

Depending on your business idea, it might be useful to consider using a non-disclosure agreement when talking to manufacturers or funding partners.

Indigenous specific support

Indigenous Business Australia has some funding support available for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander businesses.

Commercialisation

Want to make your great idea a profitable one? Understand commercialisation.

Research and development funding

If your business is R&D based, Austrade can help you find funding available.

Thinking about a collaboration?

Our collaboration toolkit can help you identify key considerations if you are thinking about working with others on your business venture.

Entrepreneurs Program

Find out more about mentoring, grants and financial support available.

IP Professionals

Engaging an IP professional can be very helpful when navigating your IP.

Once you have launched your business, it is time to focus on growing it. There are some useful links below to help you find the right information and investment support for growing your business.

Indigenous support

Indigenous Business Australia has some funding support available for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander businesses.

Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

Depending on your business idea, it might be useful to consider using a non-disclosure agreement when talking to manufacturers or funding partners.

Commercialisation

Want to make your great idea a profitable one? Understand commercialisation.

Research and development funding

If your business is R&D based, Austrade can help you find funding available.

Thinking about a collaboration?

Our collaboration toolkit can help you identify key considerations if you are thinking about working with others on your business venture.

Entrepreneurs Program

Find out more about mentoring, grants and financial support available.

Dealing with infringement:

Someone is infringing you IP, what can you do?

Ready to expand? Expanding your business into new areas, whether within or outside Australia, is exciting! There are some useful links below to help you on your journey of commercialisation.

Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

Depending on your business idea, it might be useful to consider using a non-disclosure agreement when talking to manufacturers or funding partners.

Indigenous support

Indigenous Business Australia has some funding support available for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander businesses.

Commercialisation

Want to make your great idea a profitable one? Understand commercialisation.

Expanding your business internationally

Austrade provides information about expanding into overseas markets.

Export assistance and funding

Austrade can provide information on funding available to expand your business.

IP considerations to go global

Six questions to ask before taking your business global.

Improving protections for Indigenous Knowledge

IP Australia is looking at ways the Intellectual Property (IP) system can better support Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people to benefit from and protect their Indigenous Knowledge (IK).

Our IK project work is set out in our Indigenous Knowledge Work Plan 2020-21. We have publications, research and consultations on a number of ideas to support the protection of IK in the IP system. To receive updates about the our on-going work on IK, join our mail list.

Learn more about IK project >

Are you looking to work respectfully with IK?

If your IP application uses something from an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, community or nation such as words, images or knowledge, you may be drawing on Indigenous Knowledge (IK). If so, there are a number of things to consider.

IP Australia's Indigenous Knowledge Project is looking at ways the IP system can better support Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people to benefit from and protect their Indigenous Knowledge. IP Australia is currently consulting on our Indigenous Knowledge work. To receive updates about the our on-going work on IK, join our mail list.

Working Respectfully with Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous Knowledge is an important asset belonging to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, their communities and their organisations or businesses. Indigenous Knowledge can reflect and identify a community’s history, cultural and social identity and its values. If you are working with Indigenous Knowledge, treating it appropriately ensures you are being respectful and this can be part of building a brand that consumers view positively.

During our Indigenous Knowledge consultations in 2018-19, the following high-level themes about using Indigenous Knowledge emerged:

Control

Indigenous people want to be able to control who uses Indigenous Knowledge and how it is used.

Protection

Indigenous people are seeking measures that can prevent unauthorised use of their knowledge and impose sanctions against misappropriation.

Recognition

Indigenous people want to be recognised as the owners of their Indigenous Knowledge.

Respect

Indigenous people want their ownership of Indigenous Knowledge and the cultural protocols associated with it to be respected.

Some examples of when these themes might be relevant are if:

  • a trade mark uses an Indigenous word or image
  • a design incorporates Indigenous-style art or icons
  • an invention draws on Traditional Knowledge or native plants and their properties.

If you are developing IP that uses or might draw on Indigenous Knowledge, you may want to consider the four themes mentioned above. Addressing these themes before you file your application may be important to consider. The misuse of Indigenous Knowledge can be disrespectful and offensive to Indigenous people. It can undermine cultural practices and may also affect the economic opportunities available to Indigenous communities.

Some Indigenous Knowledge is regarded as secret and sacred and should not be used commercially at all. Some other knowledge could be used commercially, but consent from the Traditional Owners should be sought and protocols attaching to its use should be observed.

Many issues concerning the use of Indigenous Knowledge can be addressed by obtaining consent from the Traditional Owners. ‘Free, prior and informed consent’, or FPIC, is a principle established under international human rights law. It refers to conditions where people can negotiate the terms of an action or policy which will directly affect their interests and they have the option to give or withhold their consent. The key elements of FPIC, as set out by the United Nations, are:

Free

Consent given voluntarily and without coercion, intimidation or manipulation.

Prior

Consent is sought in advance of any authorisation or commencement of activities.

Informed

The nature and impacts of the activity are understood by the people whose consent is being sought.

Consent

Collective decision made by Traditional Owners and reached through customary decision-making processes of the communities. Consultation and participation are important components of a consent process.

Obtaining consent before proceeding to use Indigenous Knowledge is good practice that can help ensure you avoid causing cultural harm or offence.

There are materials available online such as protocols that can provide guidance on how to engage with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in relation to sharing Indigenous Knowledge. Some examples of these protocols are listed below but there are other examples available online and you should look out for those most applicable to your industry or sector.

Traditional Cultural Expressions Arts Sectors Australia Council for the Arts – Protocols for Visual Arts, Music, Writing, Performance and Media Arts
Traditional Knowledge Research Sectors AIATSIS – Code of Ethics for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Research

For more information

Are you an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander business owner? Do you want to know more about how your business can utilise Intellectual Property (IP)? You can now organise to have a yarn with an IP expert through IP Australia’s Yarnline service.

Yarnline is a new call-back service offering to help support Indigenous businesses and those working with Indigenous businesses to better understand IP. You can book a time to have an in-depth conversation about IP and Indigenous Knowledge with one of our specialist Yarnline staff members.

Yarnline

1800 316 949

Online webform

Learn more >

You can nominate a time that is convenient for you and we will aim to call you back within that timeframe.

Our Yarnline team consists of 12 specialist staff members across different IP Australia business groups, including member of our Indigenous Employees Network.

If your question is not related to Indigenous Knowledge, please contact the IP Australia office.

Disclaimer

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this website may contain images, voices and videos of deceased persons. IP Australia keeps a published record of historical IP right filings and advise that the database may include images and descriptions that may be culturally sensitive or reflect the attitude of the period in which the item was written and may be considered inappropriate today.

Acknowledgement of Country

IP Australia acknowledges the past and recognises the rich contributions to innovation that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people have made to Australia throughout 60,000 years of continuing lore and history as the nation’s first innovators. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which our agency is located and where we conduct our business, and we pay our respects to ancestors and Elders.