International issues

  1. World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)'s work on protecting Indigenous intellectual property
  2. UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues
  3. UNESCO
  4. Pacific Islands Forum
  5. Other work being done overseas

World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)'s work on protecting Indigenous intellectual property

The Intergovernmental Committee on Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Traditional Cultural Expressions/Folklore

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations which is dedicated to developing a balanced and accessible international intellectual property system.

The need to protect Indigenous cultural heritage does not stop at Australia’s borders; it is relevant to Indigenous communities all around the world. Accordingly, WIPO has created an Intergovernmental Committee on Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Traditional Cultural Expressions/Folklore (the IGC) which has been deliberating on this issue for 10 years. Australia has been actively involved in the IGC's work from the start of discussions.

The IGC has developed draft documents covering the core principles and objectives, as well as other substantive provisions in relation to traditional cultural expressions (TCEs).The work in relation to traditional knowledge and genetic resources has progressed in different directions. With the document relating to TCEs, whilst there is still quite a bit of disagreement about many of the issues amongst participating nations, progress has accelerated with WIPO having set a deadline for September 2011 to present the text of any international legal instrument for the consideration of its General Assembly.

The aim of the instruments is to ensure the effective protection of traditional cultural expressions (TCEs)/folklore both at domestic levels and across international borders. 

Some aspects of the draft instrument might be difficult to apply inthe Australian context. For example, a requirement for registration of TCEs in order to get the highest level of protection might be difficult to satisfy given the remoteness of some Indigenous communities, their level of literacy in English and the lack of means of communication.

WIPO is also involved in capacity building work with some member States, and will provide legal-technical assistance to States, regional organisations and communities, with respect to:

  • developing and strengthening national and regional systems for the protection of TCEs
  • through the Creative Heritage Project, the strategic management of IP rights and interests in specific practical contexts such as:
    • IP and the Documentation and Digitization of Intangible Cultural Heritage
      • IP Management by Museums, Libraries and Archives
      • Community Cultural Documentation
    • IP and Handicrafts
    • IP Management related to Arts Festivals

Further information

WIPO traditional knowledge section
IP Australia discussion

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UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Report of the secretariat on Indigenous traditional knowledge by Michael Dodson, Special Rapporteur, 2007. This report was commissioned by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues which appointed Michael Dodson to prepare a concept paper on the extent to which  customary laws should be reflected in international and national standards addressing traditional knowledge.

For further information go to Permanent Forum's website

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UNESCO

UNESCO has developed the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The convention includes principles and articles which deal with promoting and protecting Indigenous cultural expressions.

Article 2 – Guiding principles

1, 2 …

3. Principle of equal dignity of and respect for all cultures

The protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions presuppose the recognition of equal dignity of and respect for all cultures, including the cultures of persons belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples.

Article 7 – Measures to promote cultural expressions

1. Parties shall endeavour to create in their territory an environment which encourages individuals and social groups:

(a) to create, produce, disseminate, distribute and have access to their own cultural expressions, paying due attention to the special circumstances and needs of women as well as various social groups, including persons belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples;

2, 3 …

For further information about UNESCO's work on the convention and cultural diversity go to their website.

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Pacific Islands Forum

The Pacific Islands Forum is a political grouping of 16 independent and self-governing states.

In 2002, the Pacific Islands Forum adopted a Regional Framework for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture which contained a Model Law for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture (Model Law).

The Model Law is a draft document establishing a new range of statutory rights for traditional owners of traditional knowledge and expressions of culture. The model law provides a basis for Pacific Island countries wishing to enact legislation for the protection of traditional knowledge and expressions of culture.

In order to further the protection of traditional knowledge, the Pacific Islands Forum launched in 2009 the Traditional Knowledge Action Plan. The aim of this Action Plan is to support the effective implementation of domestic efforts for protection along with developing regional efforts for the protection of ownership rights and the effective commercialisation and economic use of traditional knowledge.

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Other work being done overseas

The following nations have introduced legislation to provide better protection of Indigenous intellectual property:

New Zealand:

Panama:

Philippines:

Peru

Republic of Azerbaijan:

Links to these laws can be found on the WIPO website.

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