Women & Intellectual Property: IPR still a new concept in Nagaland

April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day 

Kanili Kiho
Dimapur | April 25

“When it concerns the tribal communities especially Nagaland, intellectual property rights is a very new concept and not understood in the context of a modern and evolving society,” expressed textile designer Margaret Zinyu on the eve of World Intellectual Property Day on April 26.

The theme for 2023 is “Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity.”

Zinyu is also the founder of Woven Threads, a design initiative taken to encourage women of Nagaland to sustain their roots and help the young weavers keep their craft alive. 

In her creative space, she shared that she do care about the intellectual property rights (IPR), but observed that “Nagas aren’t quite there yet to understand the nuances of IPR.”

Through her experience, Zinyu pointed out that there is awareness, but in-depth understanding and implications are still missing. 

The conditioning needs to start early through community sensitisation to schools, colleges or even from one’s practice, she added. 

This view was echoed by Naga women from different fields, whom The Morung Express spoke to on IPR and related issues. 

Maintaining that the Nagas are a close-knit community, where the ancestors from a village shared and passed on the oral culture and traditional practices as an open resource, Zinyu explained that this can be considered as a Geographical Indication (GI), which is also an IPR. 

Intellectual property (IP) pertains to any original creation of the human intellect such as artistic, literary, technical, or scientific creation while IPR refers to the exclusive legal rights given to the inventor or creator to protect the invention or creation for a certain period of time.

It can be ideas, inventions, and creative expressions based on which there is a public willingness to bestow the status of property. The IPR enables them to reap commercial benefits from their creative efforts or reputation. There are several types of intellectual property protection like patent, copyright, trademark, geographical indication etc.

Yet to fully participate
Naga women entrepreneurs are yet to fully participate in the system of IPR, where one’s own ideas and innovation is still untapped, opined Vitono Gugu Haralu.

 Maintaining that only few perhaps have had access to such opportunities, she underscored the need for handholding and in-depth research and conversation at all levels – rural and urban. 

As a social activist and a radio jockey, Haralu said she got exposed to the subject of IP about four years ago, through Nagaland science and technology department, while doing an exercise on IPR on ideas, design and innovation for Naga textiles.

With her experience, she had the opportunity to speak on different occasions “of how an Indigenous woman looks at her people's textiles and how we need to evolve in keeping our dying art alive by using existing systems to protect and preserve and promote in the right spirit in order to safeguard what belongs to the people.”

Maintaining that infringement and clash of ideas are real, she mentioned that we need to understand what is meaningful and just for the people.

 She also shared on how her recent lecture at NIFT Shillong elicited healthy conversation around cultural appropriation, lifestyles and how the fashion industry needs to be more sensitive and respect others’ creation that has existed for centuries. 

“Culture is not a commodity, for it holds our identity and history. It is not to be played with. Our textiles are our story book.”

She said that this year’s theme is a much needed one that will need equal and equity in spirit and action. Haralu conveyed that she has benefited from IP and has enabled her to educate and advocate the weavers’ community and the youths meaningfully.

More awareness needed 
Filmmaker Rebecca Changkija Sema said that IPR is a fairly new terminology for the Indigenous community like the Nagas and said that there needs to be more awareness among the people to protect the rich culture and properties of the Naga people.

In the Naga context, she observed that the State has been witnessing significant growth in women entrepreneurship. However, she viewed that many women entrepreneurs still struggle in the, citing that institutions and infrastructure in the State has not yet evolved to meet their specific needs.

If more awareness is created across all levels, she said that IP will be an absolute enabler for the Naga women entrepreneurs and investors to thrive in their career.

“We are not really aware of it. It is not that we are not sensitive to it, but because we are not aware of it,” said Bambi Kevichusa. She maintained that the lack of awareness comes from the lack of education. 

Stressing that “we as a people are quite sensitive to our traditions and cultures,” Kevichusa held that the Nagas in general would greatly benefit from the indigenous, cultural and artistic property rights, if given the right education.

The designer also acknowledged the ingenuity of Naga women entrepreneurs and creators. “We have a role to play, because what we do and create has value, and I believe that it needs to be recognised.” 

This can happen when we are able to participate in the intellectual property rights. "I think we Naga women can take it from there," she added.