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Documentation of traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) has attracted increasing attention in recent years from governments and cultural institutions as well as from indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), in parallel with the growing recognition of the cultural and economic value of TK and TCEs.

New information technologies, such as electronic digitization and the internet, have also made documentation easier and facilitated access and dissemination. However, documenting TK and TCEs should not be regarded as an end in itself. It needs to be undertaken within a framework of sound objectives and principles, and guided by a clear assessment of the risks and potential benefits, particularly for the traditional holders.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) does not promote documentation of TK and TCEs as such, but rather advises governments, cultural institutions and traditional custodians wishing to document TK and TCEs on related intellectual property (IP) issues. This brief describes the main objectives of documenting TK and TCEs, the IP issues that may arise and options for addressing them.