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Indigenous knowledge for school science: insights into the issue of intellectual property rights from three South African studies

Dominic Mashoko
Vongai Mpofu
Emmanuel Mushayikwa
Moyra Keane


Some research studies in South Africa have shown that existing intellectual property laws have managed to protect Indigenous Knowledge held by indigenous people. However, more needs to be done, particularly regarding the recognition of indigenous laws when protecting Indigenous Knowledge in research publications. In this paper, we explore how intellectual property rights are being handled in studies involving Indigenous Knowledge and the teaching and learning of school science in South Africa. Three sample case studies and interviews with Indigenous Knowledge researchers were used to generate data. This analysis, guided by the Indigenous Knowledge Intellectual Property rights, and Indigenous Knowledge Systems content analysis conceptual frameworks, focused on the Indigenous Knowledge and its source, rationale for its protection, and methods used to protect it. We complemented case study data with 10 interviews of Indigenous Knowledge group members at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, on their understanding of the intersection of intellectual property with innovation in Indigenous Knowledge research. Data shows that the rights of Indigenous Knowledge holders have not received ‘full’ recognition. We recommend that in research publications there should be a ‘connection’ between intellectual property laws and indigenous laws for knowledge holders to receive the recognition that they deserve.

Keywords: Indigenous knowledge, school science, cultural protocols, integration, intellectual property, intellectual property rights