How to protect Indigenous Knowledge

If you're using Indigenous Knowledge (IK) to create something new and unique, IP rights can legally protect aspects of the IK and contribute to your product's value.

Can my IK be protected by an IP right?

It's important to understand your individual business journey and how IP may help you gain a commercial advantage. Like a piece of physical property, your IP rights are owned by you and can be sold or licensed to others. This can include protecting elements of your idea that might draw on IK.

It's important to note that there isn't an IP right that holistically protects IK – you'll need to protect elements of your idea with the relevant type of IP.

If you want to protect:

  1. A logo or branding you've designed to use for your business – apply for a trade mark 
  2. An invention – apply for a patent
  3. The visual appearance of your product – apply for a design right
  4. A new variety of plant or tree that you've developed – apply for plant breeder's rights
  5. Art, non-commercial designs, music, literature or film – these are protected by copyright. You don't need to apply and register in Australia. 

Learn about the different types of IP

What can't be protected?

IK is significant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and it's not possible under current legislation to fully cover and protect all IK with IP. For example, secret and sacred knowledge, including stories behind practice, can't be covered by IP.

If you're working with IK, you may want to consider if it's appropriate to take your idea public and seek consent from the Traditional Custodians before you apply for an IP right. You should make sure that you observe all protocols attached to its use.

How to respectfully engage with IK

Considerations for protecting IK

Protecting your IK with a relevant IP right gives you:

  • Exclusive commercial rights to your idea
  • Freedom to licence its manufacture to a third party without them being able to copy it
  • The right to take legal action to stop others from commercialising your idea in Australia without your permission.

Deciding the best way to proceed involves considering your commercial advantages and identifying the optimal way to make the most of your asset. Some considerations include non disclosure agreements and consent. For more information, check the IP commercialisation page.

An independent IP professional can help you weigh up the costs and benefits of legal protection and assist with developing an IP strategy. There may be costs associated with this.

Speak with us on Yarnline
Are you an Indigenous business using IK? Yarnline is here to help — our callback service is dedicated to helping you understand how IP rights can protect your new ideas, including those based on IK.

To book an in-depth conversation with one of our specialist team members, get in touch with us. 

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