Last updated: 
21 September 2020

IP Australia is looking at ways the IP system can better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to protect and benefit from their Indigenous Knowledge. On this page you'll find more information about Indigenous Knowledge, IP Australia’s work in this area and further information and publications. To receive notifications about IP Australia’s Indigenous Knowledge work, please join our mailing list.

What is Indigenous Knowledge?

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

  • Traditional Knowledge – or ‘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. A ‘genetic resource’ can be any biological material, including plants, fungi and animals. In some areas within Australia, the informed consent of the local Indigenous community is a precondition for permission to collect a genetic resource for commercial purposes, which may include research.
  • Traditional Cultural Expressions – or ‘TCEs’ are sometimes referred to as 'folklore' and include languages, music, performances, songlines, stories, dance, symbols, designs, visual art, crafts and architecture.

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.

Here are some examples of how IP rights can intersect with Indigenous Knowledge:

If you are looking to apply for a trade mark, patent, design or plant breeders right that draws on knowledge, language or culture from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, you can find more information about working respectfully with this knowledge on our IK guidance for Applicants webpage.

What is IP Australia doing in relation to Indigenous Knowledge? 

IP Australia has developed an Indigenous Knowledge Work Plan 2020-21 which outlines a range of initiatives we are looking at to support protection of Indigenous Knowledge in the IP system. These initiatives received support from stakeholders during our 2018-19 consultations.

As part of this work, IP Australia will develop new communication materials to increase awareness and understanding about the use and misappropriation of Indigenous Knowledge. This is in addition to a review of Nanga Mai Arung / Dream Shield, our IP guide for Indigenous businesses.

We are also releasing a short series of Insights which share key findings about Indigenous Knowledge from Estimating the Market Value of Indigenous Knowledge. This is a report we commissioned from the Australian National University’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic and Policy Research to better understand the economic value of Indigenous Knowledge.

We will continue engaging with stakeholders and other parts of government during 2020 to progress work on the protection of Indigenous Knowledge.

Please direct any questions concerning our consultations to IKProject@ipaustralia.gov.au.

Upcoming Consultations

We are preparing to consult further on three initiatives relating to potential changes to how IP Australia examines IP applications that involve Indigenous Knowledge. These proposals are currently open on our policy register for feedback: 

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted our original timelines for this consultation and we are now planning to commence consultation in early 2021.

To receive an email update when consultations commence, please sign up to our mailing list.

Publications

Further information about Indigenous Knowledge and IP Australia's work can be found in the following documents.

  • Consultation Report 2018-19 - Following the conclusion of the Indigenous Knowledge Consultations on 1 February 2019, IP Australia undertook further work based on stakeholder responses. Our consultation report, Protection of Indigenous Knowledge in the Intellectual Property System, provides a summary record of the feedback we received through our roundtables, written submissions, and online survey.
  • Consultation Paper 2018-19 - From September 2018 to 1 February 2019 IP Australia sought comments from stakeholders with an interest in how Indigenous Knowledge is protected, used and managed. Our aim was to identify policy options that relate to the IP responsibilities of IP Australia and help to promote the cultural integrity and economic potential of Indigenous Knowledge. 
  • Indigenous Knowledge: Issues for Protection and Management - An independent Discussion Paper by Terri Janke and Company. This paper explores the relationship between tradition-based knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and issues of IP, cultural heritage and economic empowerment.
  • Nanga Mai Arung/Dream Shield - IP Australia's 2014 guide to IP rights for Indigenous businesses. This publication is currently under review and will be redeveloped.

Further information about our previous consultations

Protection of Indigenous Knowledge in the Intellectual Property System Consultation (2018-19)

From September 2018 to 1 February 2019 IP Australia sought comments from stakeholders with an interest in how Indigenous Knowledge is protected, used and managed. Our aim was to identify policy options that relate to the IP responsibilities of IP Australia and help to promote the cultural integrity and economic potential of Indigenous Knowledge. More information can be found in our consultation paper.

A summary of the feedback we received in this consultation was released in August 2019 in our Consultation Report.

This consultation process followed the publication in March 2018 of Indigenous Knowledge: Issues for protection and management, a paper produced by the Indigenous owned legal firm Terri Janke and Company for IP Australia and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

In November 2018, IP Australia held a series of roundtables across Australia as part of this consultation process. Participants were given the opportunity to discuss their views on the issues raised in the consultation paper, including:

  • the key issues associated with the protection and management of Indigenous Knowledge in Australia; and
  • the options that IP Australia has proposed to enhance the promotion and protection of Indigenous Knowledge in Australia.

Submissions for this consultation process closed on 1 February 2019.

We received the following non-confidential submissions to our 2018-19 consultations:

Finding the Way Consultation (2016)

In 2016 IP Australia did an initial consultation regarding Indigenous Knowledge. We sought views about Indigenous Knowledge and the intellectual property (IP) system. The responses to this consultation highlighted the need for further targeted consultation and policy development.

The closing date for submissions was 31 January 2016.

We received the following submissions to our 2016 consultations:

Acknowledgement

IP Australia acknowledges the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which our agency is located and where we conduct our business. We pay our respects to ancestors and Elders, past, present and emerging. IP Australia acknowledges Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ unique cultural and spiritual relationships to the land, waters and seas and their rich contribution to society.