Intangible assets are difficult to value, but IP Australia has commissioned research which confirms Indigenous Knowledge (IK) in Australia is valuable with both economic and cultural value in Australia.
This is anecdotally reflected in commerce with a valuable and established Indigenous art market and increased use of Indigenous cultural heritage as a unique marketing tool and sign of Australian national identity.
IP Australia has developed and Indigenous Knowledge Work Plan 2020-21 as part of its strategy to better support the cultural integrity and economic potential of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which includes:
For those working on the registered protection of trade marks and patents, some specific trade mark and patent related proposals include the following:
Proposal - Measures to prevent registration of trade marks or designs using IK offensively or without consent
Proposal- Dictionary database for trade mark and design examiners
Proposal - Disclosure requirement for traditional knowledge and genetic resource in patent and plant breeders’ rights applications
Proposal- Explore links between patents data and the Atlas of Living Australia, a National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) facility hosted by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Proposal- Certification Trade Mark (CTM) for authentic Indigenous goods
Trans-Tasman approach - Australian and New Zealand
Despite the geographical proximity of Australia and New Zealand and close economic and cultural similarities, both countries are currently operate quite different intellectual property regimes in relation to the protection of IK.
The current Australian regime has significant limitations with no specific provisions relating to IK. For example, there is no provision in the Australian Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth) that explicitly protects indigenous words, symbols, images or designs from becoming registered trade marks, nor is there anything requiring the Registrar of Trade Marks to reject an application on the grounds that it incorporates an indigenous word, symbol,image or design. There is no consultation process with indigenous communities and words can be registered without the prior informed consent or knowledge of traditional owners. Concerned parties must oppose registration under opposition grounds that the mark is Scandalous, Contrary to Law or that use of the mark is likely to Deceive or Cause Confusion. These opposition grounds are available for all trade marks and do not obviously address IK.
New Zealand’s patent and trade mark laws include specific provisions for the protection of mātauranga Māori (commonly translated as Māori knowledge) encompasses the body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors. It includes the Māori world view and perspectives, as well as Māori creativity and cultural practices including Te Reo, the Māori language.
Notable New Zealand government initiatives include:
Australia’s IK Work Plan will likely result in reforms which reflect some of the best practices developed and which are now well established in New Zealand.
For more information on Australia's IK Work Plan contact Lance Scott
 Blackwell, B.D. Bodle, K. Hunt, J. Hunter, B. Stratton, J.and Woods, K. (2019).
Methods for Estimating the Market Value of Indigenous Knowledge, reportcommissioned by IP Australia, Canberra.