The field of commercial law is not known for its equal representation of women, but Professor Natalie Stoianoff says that the UTS Faculty of Law is incredibly diverse.
“Everyone here works together and supports each other, and that’s crucial,” says Natalie, who is a professor and Director of the Intellectual Property Program in the faculty and a recognised leader in intellectual property law.
“What is also interesting is the significant role women play in this faculty, and in transforming what was a quite male-dominated faculty of teachers into a vibrant culture where research and teaching both thrive and are deeply interconnected.
“We’re now one of the highest ranked law schools in Australia, and that’s happened quite quickly,” she adds.
Natalie says that the faculty’s deep industry engagement combines with a collegiate culture, strong leadership and mentoring to provide an ideal environment for career development and impact. Her interdisciplinary research is concerned with new technologies and the legal, ethical and commercial aspects of biotechnology — everything from the patenting of human genes to protecting Indigenous knowledge.
The Law faculty’s deep industry engagement combines with a collegiate culture, strong leadership and mentoring to provide an ideal environment for career development and impact.
The latter has been a primary focus in recent years, through her current project, Garuwanga: Forming a Competent Authority to Protect Indigenous Knowledge.
“What we are working towards is a legal mechanism under which we can formally protect Indigenous knowledge and cultural expressions in the Australian context under Australian law, bringing Aboriginal customary law together with intellectual property and environmental protection law,” Natalie explains.
“It provides a way forward on how to deal with things that don’t fit into usual Western law, and empowers communities — as opposed to government instrumentalities — to actually protect what is theirs and what they are custodians over.”
A classic example is when pharmaceutical companies seek to exploit traditional knowledge of flora and fauna for medicinal products.
“Often the corporation takes the knowledge, commercialises it and reaps all the rewards. In an ideal world, bio-prospectors would enter into a formal arrangement with communities before any information is divulged, and there would be acknowledgement, partnership and a flow-back of benefits.”
The project provides a model for compliance with the Nagoya Protocol, and has implications for many other Indigenous nations across the globe. It’s one of numerous strings in her bow, from founding the Indigenous Knowledge Forum Committee, where she remains Chair, to an impressive publication and research grants record.
The child of political refugees who fled communist Bulgaria at the end of the Second World War, Natalie grew up with stories of how her parents’ birth nation managed to maintain its cultural heritage and language through centuries of foreign conquest.
“I think that's what makes me so passionate about the experiences of Aboriginal people in Australia and my desire to ensure they are able to not only maintain their culture, but make it flourish.”
Photography: Andy Roberts