Iconic luxury fashion label Chanel has recently come under fire for advertising the sale of a Chanel branded Boomerang – with a rather hefty price tag of $2000. Both the online community and intellectual property experts were quick to condemn Chanel for cultural appropriation by seeking to profit from a culturally significant item.

This isn’t the first time a well known brand has been accused of cultural appropriation. Victoria’s Secret was forced to apologise when one of their models, Karlie Kloss, donned a Native American-style headdress for the 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in New York.

The issue of cultural appropriation should not be taken lightly, and should be a key consideration when creating and applying for intellectual property rights. The United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, including the prevention of their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual properties being taken and used without their consent.

Being aware of local laws when considering applying for a patent, design or trade mark that you believe may have cultural significance, or may be derived from another culture’s heritage, is particularly important. If you have used a word that is native to a specific culture or taken inspiration from indigenous art works, for example, it’s important to be aware of any enforceable protection available to the original indigenous owners for such subject matter.

While the Chanel boomerang was seen as insensitive in Australia, in some countries it may not be possible to obtain protection for items or inventions that are derived from traditional indigenous knowledge, plants or animals. For example, in New Zealand, inventions derived from traditional Maori knowledge and which are likely to be exploited in a way that is contrary to traditional Maori values are not patentable.

While it is important to consider how your new product or trade mark might be perceived from a branding point of view, when it draws inspiration from other cultures, you should also consider how specific laws may affect your rights when it comes to protecting your product or trade mark.