World Intellectual Property Organization

Documentation of Traditional Knowledge

A wide range of tools and proposals have been developed over the past decade or so to protect traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) (including using classical IP systems, developing sui generis legislation, applying defensive protection instruments, among others). Special attention has been given to documentation and the role of databases and registers in this regard.

As a result, identifying, collecting and organizing TK and TCEs has become a widely discussed option to guarantee indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ social, cultural and economic interests. Documenting TK and TCEs has emerged as one of the tools which may play a role in impeding further loss of TK, maintaining TK over time, supporting benefit-sharing and, ultimately, protecting TK and TCEs from unwanted uses.

Yet, the mere documentation of TK or TCEs cannot stand alone as an effective strategy for protecting TK and TCEs. TK and TCEs documentation should not take place within a legal and policy vacuum.

Indeed, concerns and questions have been raised regarding documentation and its potential effects on the rights, cultures and livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities, including through the placing of TK and TCEs in the "public domain", the loss of control, the making of TK and TCEs publicly available, the loss of the secret nature of some TK and TCEs, etc.

TK Documentation Toolkit

The Draft WIPO TK Documentation Toolkit PDF, WIPO Guide on Managing Intellectual Property For Museums provides useful practical guidance on how to undertake a TK documentation exercise as a process and how to address critical IP-related issues and questions, as they surface during this effort.

The Toolkit focuses mainly on TK. However, much of the information in the Toolkit, especially on process, might also apply to TCEs.

The WIPO TK Documentation Toolkit does not promote documentation as such. Neither does it provide, suggest or prefer any one approach to IP management. It offers a menu of alternatives to be taken into account by documentation projects and efforts.

This draft is published for consultation and field-testing. A more final version will be published in due course. Comments would be appreciated and may be sent to the Traditional Knowledge Division.


WIPO TK Documentation
Toolkit (draft) PDF, Intellectual Property and the Safeguarding of Traditional Cultures

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