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Bid to trademark Ka Mate words fails

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A bid to trademark portions of New Zealand’s most famous haka has failed in a precedent-setting case.

Trademarks assistant commissioner Jennie Walden issued her ruling yesterday, saying that while lower North Island iwi Ngati Toa owned the Ka Mate haka and key phrases in it, it did not have a monopoly over its commonly used words.

Te Runanga o Toa Rangatira, Ngati Toa’s authority, applied to trademark four key phrases in the haka in 2010, then requested Christchurch souvenir company ProKiwi to stop production of a tea towel featuring the term “ka mate”, saying it was “derogatory”.

ProKiwi owner Rafe Hammett said yesterday he opposed the trademark application because he wanted to use the term but, more importantly, also believed it should stay in the public domain.

“I think every now and then people have to stick up for what their principles are.”

While the authority had been ordered to pay ProKiwi almost $4000 in costs, the exercise would still end up costing him money.

He called Ngati Toa in 2010 to sort the issue out informally but “they didn’t want to chat”.

Te Runanga o Toa Rangatira chairman Taku Parai said he was disappointed with the decision.

“Our intentions … were to solely protect what we see as a taonga from being misused, there has been no other mechanism that we could use to protect this work.”

The application had always been a long shot but the iwi was willing to try “any means possible to protect the work of our ancestor and rangatira, Te Rauparaha”, Mr Parai said.

It had 20 working days to decide whether to appeal against the ruling in the High Court but a decision had not been made.

Baldwins Intellectual Property lawyer Kate Duckworth, who argued for ProKiwi, said the decision was precedent setting.

“There’s been no [previous] attempt to trademark a haka but there’s also been no attempt to trademark something so strongly part of the New Zealand culture.”

Losing could have set wider implications for the public use of the haka, and only those with Ngati Toa permission would have been able to use it, presumably having to pay for it, she said.

“To be fair to Ngati Toa, they said they weren’t trying to lock it down or stop people using it.”

While she had sympathy for the iwi, which was trying to stop inappropriate and offensive use of the haka, registering it as a trademark was not the right way. However, better avenues were unavailable in New Zealand.

- © Fairfax NZ News


(1) Comment

  1. Ralph WaiWai

    If they wont make a ruling that use of Maori culture must be in line with the principles of protection of Maori culture for the name sake of our beloved dead, we can't be held responsible for the reactions of our youths when they act inappropriately when Maori Taonga Tipuna (Maori tresasures of ancestors who are dead) is misused by foreigners, I'm sure there will be repercussions when it is disrespected regardless of what the court says. Mark my words.

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