Bula Brawl; Fiji Government to Contest US Trademark
The Fijian government are preparing to tackle a United States businessman that has trademarked the country’s national greeting – ‘bula’.
American businessman Ross Kashtan, who runs the Florida chain of bars named Bula Kafe obtained registration for the trademark on September 4th this year. The bar has an evident island theme and which among other things serves a range of kava beverages, a popular bitter drink across Fiji and other Pacific Islands. Kava is derived from the medicinal plant, Piper Methysticum which is said to have deep cultural meaning to Fijians.
The world Bula is a popular term used similarly to the Hawaiian ‘aloha’. The Fijan word has a variety of meanings however is most commonly used as a greeting, meaning “hello” or “life”.
Fiji Attorney, General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was “shocked and outraged” and described the move as "heritage-hacking".
"We would never give permission for anyone - particularly someone outside of Fiji looking to profit - to effectively claim ownership of 'bula', a word so deeply-rooted in our national identity that it has become synonymous with Fiji itself,".
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum also accused previous Fiji governments of allowing foreigners to get away with many trademarks dear to the people, including its name.
Currently, there are 43 companies which have trademarked the word ‘bula’ with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) of which 16 are active. Moreover, there are multiple Floridan establishments who have incorporated the word within their branding such as ‘Bula on the Beach café’ and ‘Bula Bar and Grill’.
There has allegedly been no response from the Floridian Bula bar owner thus far.
Fiji are now seeking to contest the trademark and take the issue to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
It will be interesting to see how this heritage battle turns out for Fiji…
By Sena Tokel, a student at Southampton Solent University