Protecting Indigenous Knowledge in your business

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

Recognising where Indigenous Knowledge may impact the intellectual property elements of your idea will help you seek the right information when developing your application.

What types of IP can you register?

Trade marks are used to distinguish your goods and services from another trader. Trade marks can include a logo, phrase, word, letter, colour, sound, smell, picture, movement or aspect of packaging, or a combination of these things.

Indigenous language, words or imagery may form part of your trade mark.

Learn more about trade marks

A patent protects any device, substance, method or process that's new, inventive and useful.

This may include using traditional knowledge of plants or ecology to develop distinct strains of flora or invent a new foodstuff or pharmaceutical.

Learn more about patents

A design right protects the visual appearance of a product that has a physical and tangible form, can be manufactured or handmade, and is produced on a commercial scale.

This could include a piece of furniture, textiles or clothing that incorporates Indigenous designs or crafting processes.

Learn more about design rights

Plant breeder’s rights protect new plant varieties. This could include using traditional knowledge of native plants to develop a new plant variety.

Learn more about plant breeder's rights

There are also unregistered rights which we aren't responsible for, including copyright and trade secrets.

Copyright Council works to help support you and your unregistered creative rights in Australia.

Visit Copyright Council


Indigenous Knowledge adds a unique and valuable dimension to products and services, attracting customers who appreciate cultural heritage, authenticity, and innovation. 

How to commercialise my IP 

Collaboration between Indigenous communities with Indigenous and non-indigenous businesses opens doors to innovative joint ventures, leading to the development of novel products and services. 

Commercialisation and collaboration

Discover the inspiring collaboration journey between Marc from Alperstein Designs and artist Mick, exploring Indigenous Knowledge in commercialisation, ethical licensing, and IP protection.

Alperstein Designs X Ngarga Warendj

IP and collaborations

It started just as a bit of a hobby. I've always been a bit of a woodworker. We went from making shields and boomerangs, mainly, and some clap sticks, then I started doing some drawing. People wanted artwork for reports and reconciliation action plans, and we're miles away from that now. So we're very, very busy now.

It's very family business based in Melbourne and we wholesale a range of lifestyle gifts and homewares around Australia. We work with a lot of Indigenous artists and art centres. So we started working with Mick quite a while back, and Mick's work is very different. So we felt that it would be really complementary to what we do.

Marc was really attracted to the black and white stuff that I do, because it was a point of difference as well from all the other licenses he has. We get to know one another and then we can bounce ideas off each other. And I always get to sign off on that stuff before it goes to production. It's a good relationship.

There is a history of exploitation within the space so there is an element of having to build up trust. So when making a new product with an artist, the first thing is coming up with a license and setting the parameters of what you're able to do. When entering your licensing agreement, we're very mindful that we're not buying the copyright. We think it's really important that the artist always maintains the copyright of the license. A licensing agreement is essentially an agreement, so both parties have to be on board with it. And also for the artists to know that they're protected as well.

I upright on licenses almost all the time. I've never sold my copyright to anybody. So the reasons why I do licensing for is the designs I'm using, now, some of them are similar to the way my old people expressed their connection to our country. So if I sell that to someone in terms of the copyright, no one else can use that then. Well, if our people using it in the past and we're using it today, I want to make sure that it's there for our children and children's children into the future.

If you're looking at, I guess, licensing and artwork from an artist or a designer, I think it's important that you have a proper agreement in place. We sought legal advice from an IP lawyer to make sure that it was the correct document, but we suggest and we encourage the artists or the art centres to get external legal advice as well to make sure they understand it. From our perspective, we want to make sure that you understand what's going on and that you are a hundred per cent on board. Then it leads to a very productive relationship.

If there was an Aboriginal audience, make sure you get advice. If someone wants you to sign something, take your time, understand it fully, otherwise you might be signing something that could be detrimental to you or your community.

How is IK considered in applications? 

We're continuing to develop our IP system to help support the cultural integrity and economic potential of Indigenous Knowledge held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 
 red, black and yellow dot painting of a kangaroo
Our trademark examiners are actively working to carefully consider applications related to the use of Indigenous Knowledge. Many of our Indigenous Knowledge specialist team members are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals. All our IP rights examiners receive cultural training, ensuring they can sensitively address Indigenous Knowledge related matters with customers.
We know there's more work to do and we’re taking steps to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and perspectives remain central to this work. 

Yarnline business support 

We can help guide you through the IP journey. We have additional resources to support and develop your IP knowledge as you take the steps to grow your business from idea to commercialisation. 

We have the expertise and support to guide Indigenous and non-indigenous businesses through the process to apply and register protection of their product or services in line with Australian IP law. 

Get in touch