Protecting Indian Heritage Through Intellectual Property Rights

Tuesday, 14th May, 2024


For ages, artisans in India have been producing magnificent artwork. Whether it's elaborate textiles and or handcrafted pottery, every creation showcases the expertise, imagination, and dedication of these gifted craftsmen.

At present, Indian artisans persist in preserving their heritage, passing down their wisdom and abilities. Their craft not only offers aesthetic pleasure but also serves as a means of livelihood for countless families nationwide.

The significance of safeguarding this artisanal legacy through the lens of intellectual property rights (IPR) has gained more focus in recent years. This blog explores the link between IPR and India's craftsmanship, looking at how legal frameworks may protect traditional knowledge, encourage innovation, and give craftspeople more power.

Cultural Artisanal Heritage

Before understanding the interplay between Indian heritage and intellectual property, let’s first delve into understanding what “cultural and artisanal heritage” means. Cultural heritage can be described as a set of skills that a group of people who have received from many generations ago have practiced, learned, and consciously shown by concentration on this knowledge. Such heritage may be tangible or intangible. Where tangible heritage includes historic literature books, artifacts, buildings, etc., intangible heritage includes folklore, songs, music, traditions, etc.

The two main concepts that come to mind when discussing cultural heritage in the context of IP are traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expression (TCE). 

Traditional cultural expression encompasses ancient materials stretching back to vintage as well as modern interpretations, adaptations, and revivals of these materials. For an expression to qualify as a traditional cultural expression, it must be a fundamental aspect of a tradition and actively practiced within a community. 

On the other hand,  Traditional Knowledge comprises the cultural legacy, customs, and the expertise associated with those customs, which are owned by indigenous communities. It includes not just cultural traditions but also a wide range of fields including science, technology, agriculture, biodiversity, ecology, and medicine.

According to WIPO, artisanal handicrafts can have three distinct components: 

  1. Reputation: derived from their style, origin or quality; 
  2. External appearance: their shape and design; and
  3. Know-how: the skills and knowledge used to create and make them. 

Reputation can be protected by trademarks, certification marks, geographical indications or unfair competition law. 

Industrial designs or copyright safeguard the external appearance of a product, with copyright extending to artistic creations like paintings. 

Protection for know-how can be achieved through patents or by keeping it as a trade secret. Patents come into play when an artisan significantly enhances an existing process or devises a novel one with industrial applicability.


In the realm of artisanal craftsmanship, IP serves as the protector of both creativity and tradition. Streamlining Intellectual Property procedures, increasing knowledge, and offering legal aid are vital steps toward preserving India's artisanal riches, safeguarding both Indian heritage and livelihoods of such artisans.