New Zealand’s biggest dairy company Fonterra is being told not to “milk” an application to trade mark certain Te Reo Māori words for its Kāpiti cheese range for profit.
The chairman of the National Māori Authority Matthew Tukaki says Fonterra has no grounds to try and profit off Aotearoa’s native language.
“The corporatisation and the trademarking exclusive use of these words in their products, industry or category, or what have you quite frankly for everyday Māori, I think it would fail the sniff test,” says Tukaki.
Some of the words Fonterra want to trade mark are words like awa (river), kōwhai (yellow) and kirīmi (cream).
Fonterra’s Director of Inclusion and Māori Strategy Tiaki Huna told Te Karere the application to trade mark certain words reflect their desire to celebrate te re Māori.
“The products that we are applying for is some of our most premium products in our range,” says Huna.
“That doesn’t stop people from using those words, it doesn’t stop people from using te reo, it doesn’t mean that we own those words.”
Huna says trade marking te reo words is a way for Fonterra to right their wrongs and to also celebrate Aotearoa’s native language.
“We're trying to really lift and enrich how we use te reo Māori and to do it more than one week a year.
“So, we think as New Zealand’s biggest company we need to play our part in how we encourage te reo.”
But Tukaki disagrees claiming this is more about profit than it is about Te Reo Māori.
“That is about branding, it is about marketing and they will make a significant amount of putea [money] off the back of those trade marks,” he says.
“Also, it will possibly restrict smaller Māori businesses in industry from being able to use those same words.
“Don’t milk this for your own brand purposes stick to milking cows let Māori get on with the business in determining whether or not this is right.”
The trade mark application is now with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand where Māori Advisory Committee will deliberate on the matter.
How does trade marking work in New Zealand?
1 NEWS spoke to an intellectual property specialist Jessica Lai from Victoria University of Wellington about how trade marks work in New Zealand and how Fonterra could use them.
What can you register in New Zealand?
In New Zealand you can get trade marks for words or images. If you have a word trade mark, then your protection covers that word in any font or colour, and also use in an image.
If you have an image mark, your protection is limited to that image – other traders can use words from that image.
Trade marks have to be distinctive because consumers use them to identify where something comes from.
They act as "badges of origin". So, you shouldn’t be able to get a trade mark for commonly used words.
There is an exception if you have used that word in trade for long enough that consumers have learnt to see it as your "badge of origin".
It is worth noting that the Commissioner of Trade marks must not register a trade mark if “the use or registration” of the mark would be likely to offend Māori.
However, this does not mean that you cannot get a trade mark with Māori words and imagery.
What protection does registration give?
Trade marks are property. They give the owner exclusive rights.
When you register a trade mark, you register it for specific goods or services. The protection is linked to those goods and services.
But protection is limited to use in the course of trade. Protection also only extends to use in a trade mark sense. That is, no one else can use the trade mark as a "badge of origin".
For example, if you have a word trade marked then no one else can use that word in the course of trade, in relation to the goods and services that you registered it for, in a prominent way.
But, as always, the law is a bit more complicated than that.
So the protection also extends to use of similar marks used on similar goods and services, if the use would be be likely to deceive or confuse consumers.
So, for example, if Fonterra registered "Kāpiti" for cheese, no other trader could use "Kāpiti" in a conspicuous way on cheese.
The protection could also mean that another trader might not be able to use "Kapiti" on milk, as this might be likely to confuse consumers.
If these other traders did these things, Fonterra would be able to sue them for trade mark infringement, to stop the use and also get some compensation for it.