News Item

December 2019

New Research says NZ Universities are ill-equipped to protect Maori IP

Commercialisation of intellectual property rights (IP) that arise out of university-driven research are becoming increasingly important commercial assets for universities. This may involve the use of Maori knowledge in many different ways.

The Waitangi Tribunal has stipulated that kaitiaki (guardians or custodians) have the right to be acknowledged as the source of matauranga Maori where appropriate and to have their commercial interests in such matauranga recognised and protected.

Just released research, conducted by Dr Lida Ayoubi from the AUT and funded by the NZ Law Foundation, assessed how well New Zealand universities are fulfilling their Treaty obligations with regards to the commercialisation of IP rights relating to R&D.

Dr Ayoubi’s research report entitled “Intellectual Property Commercialisation and Protection of Matauranga Maori in New Zealand Universities” summarises the results of her research.

This was carried out in collaboration with commercialisation teams of eight NZ universities, and assesses the policies and processes of these universities in commercialising IP against the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal regarding the treatment of matauranga Maori.

Results show that recognition of and protection for matauranga Maori at universities appears rather inconsistent, siloed and ad-hoc. In many cases, the intellectual property or commercialisation policies of universities make no reference to matauranga Maori. If mentioned at all, it is often unclear how the policy provisions should be implemented.

Most commercialisation experts interviewed expressed an understanding of the need to respect the Treaty principles, but were unsure of how to identify or address Maori interests in the commercialisation of research intellectual property.

Some universities have created a specific role for an expert to consult on Maori interests in research generally, and in relation to intellectual property commercialisation more specifically. However, such guidance is not available in all universities and the current impact of such roles on the universities’ processes is not clear.

Approaches to ensure that commercialisation practices are consistent with the universities’ Treaty obligations, if any, appear piecemeal, varied and inconsistent.

In order to improve protection of matauranga the report recommends:

– Universities explicitly recognise potential matauranga Maori interests in their intellectual property or commercialisation policies.

– The introduction, clarification or strengthening of identification and assessment practices.

– Ensuring Maori engagement is a part of decision-making by introducing or maintaining a role for an individual or team with the necessary expertise to provide guidance to the universities’ commercialisation experts.

Synchronisation, across institutions, of policies and practices when it comes to protection of matauranga interests in the complex yet crucial commercialisation context.

Summary Report: “Intellectual Property Commercialisation and Protection of Matauranga Maori in New Zealand Universities” – PDF, 30 pages

NZ Law Foundation provided funding of $2,485.00 towards this project