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Intellectual property laws in New Zealand recognise mātauranga Māori, or Māori knowledge. mātauranga Māori captures all knowledge originating from Māori ancestors. For example, it includes:

  • the Māori world view and perspectives; and
  • Māori creativity and cultural practices such as te reo, the Māori language.

There are intellectual property protections to help ensure that businesses recognise and respect Māori culture and traditional knowledge, like mātauranga Maori. This allows businesses to benefit commercially while also preventing exploitation and inappropriate or offensive use. This article will explain how mātauranga Māori in intellectual property is assessed, to help your business respect this traditional knowledge.

Types of Māori Intellectual Property

In New Zealand, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) handles applications to register intellectual property such as trade marks, patents or designs. For instance, IPONZ assesses every application it receives for:

  • Māori elements; or
  • features derived from mātauranga Māori.

This means that even if you are unaware of Māori elements in your trade mark or patent application, IPONZ can still pick them up. New Zealand law prevents registering a trade mark where its use or registration is likely to be considered offensive by a significant number of people, including Māori. There are two Māori advisory boards within IPONZ. These are the:

  1. Trade Marks Māori Advisory Committee; and 
  2. Patents Māori Advisory Committee. 

These committees will assess your application if IPONZ determines that it contains mātauranga Māori. 

What Can Be Considered Mātauranga Māori?

When assessing for mātauranga Māori, IPONZ will look for any Māori element in your intellectual property. This can be any aspect of the intellectual property that reflects or derives from Māori culture. 

For example, this could include elements such as:

  • a Māori word or design;
  • Māori traditional knowledge;
  • indigenous plants or animals; or
  • Māori music or dance.

The Māori element could be a major or minor part of the content, service or product. Regardless, IPONZ will assess it in the same way. 

For instance, the most distinctive features of Māori imagery are:

  • curvilinear designs (contained by or consisting of a curved line or lines) as depicted in moko (tattooing), kowhaiwhai (rafter patterns), and whakairo (carving);
  • rectilinear designs (contained by, consisting of, or moving in a straight line or lines) as depicted in tukutuku (ornamental paneling) or taniko (embroidery); and
  • designs incorporating Māori objects.

What Is Not Considered Mātauranga Māori?

However, two Māori elements that do not require assessment are the:

  • word ‘kiwi’; and
  • koru design (also known as pitau).

Additionally, with a few exceptions, the Māori Trade Marks Advisory Committee does not need to assess most trade mark and design applications that only contain these Māori elements. This is because they are too common to be the exclusive intellectual property of one person or company.

For example, the Māori Trade Marks Advisory Committee will assess your trade mark application if it includes:

  • Māori geographical names;
  • Māori words or images;
  • anything that could be considered offensive or ambiguous in relation to the particular goods and services the trade mark represents;
  • the name or image of a Māori god or ancestor;
  • an association with wahi tapu (a place sacred to Māori in the traditional, spiritual, religious, ritual, or mythological sense); and
  • a word that may be regarded as having mana (high importance).

3 Steps for Registering Māori Intellectual Property

If IPONZ determines that any intellectual property application needs to go to a Māori advisory committee, the following three steps will occur:

  1. IPONZ will notify you that they have referred your intellectual property application to a Māori Advisory Committee, and the assessment will proceed while they consider the rest of your application;
  2. when the Māori Advisory Committee has finished its assessment, IPONZ will consider their advice. Above all, IPONZ can come to a different decision if they see fit; and
  3. IPONZ will send both the decision and the advice from the Māori Advisory Board to you. If the advice of a Māori Advisory Committee declines your application, you will have the chance to write a response and explain why you disagree. 

Key Takeaways

There are laws in place to protect Māori culture from misappropriation and exploitation. Therefore, this means IPONZ will check all applications for trade marks or patents for mātauranga Maori and will send an application to the Maori Advisory Board if an application contains Maori elements. If you would like more information about Maori intellectual property and registering a trade mark or patent, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use Māori elements in my trade mark?

You may be able to. For example, trade marks and other intellectual property with Māori elements will be assessed by a Māori advisory board before approval.

Where do I register intellectual property?

You can register intellectual property through the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.

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