Protecting intellectual heritage
A hot new trend that entrepreneurs now follow is opening a business that offers delicacies or products from foreign countries. This could include Mexican burritos, Jamaican Rum and Madagascan vanilla.
In many cases these shops simply give the consumer an experience they would not have otherwise tried. However, when a company takes a national association for a product / experience like a Tiki bar and try to trademark the word 'tiki' does it move from mere marketing to cultural poaching?
A series of cases last year emerged of people attempting to trademark culturally sensitive words. For example, during summertime last year a Chicago restaurant by the name of Aloha Poke drew Hawaiian ire by enforcing their already existing trademark of the title 'Aloha Poke'. The company sent many cease and desist letters to other restaurants throughout the USA for using the companies (admittedly legitimate trademark). On the other hand Aloha is a greeting in Hawaiian and the fact that a business was stopping other people from using the equivalent of hello in branding set the internet ablaze as Hawaiian activists argued against Aloha Poke actions. In a public statement Aloha Poke was forced to apologise, although it should be noted that they still retain the trademark.
Another case of trademark insensitivity was a Florida business man who trademarked the word 'Bula'. However in Fiji this means not only 'hello' but also 'life'. The Fijian government lodged complaints however the owner of Bula bars which serve Kava (a traditional Fijian drink) did not respond to the controversy, as it transpired that 43 other companies had already trademarked 'Bula'.
Improvement is occurring in the IP sector. As another country with a large indigenous population is New Zealand. The country has a panel running since 2013 that reviews intellectual property (especially trademarks) that could insult or utilize traditional Maori culture for monetary gain. This demonstrates an increasing awareness of the importance of trademarks and how it can impact a native culture.
By Ross Taylor- a student at Barton Peverill College