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Tamati was in business but had a creative bent and so set about designing his own brand.  After approaching a respected elder from his whanau, he incorporated a traditional Maori design into his branding.  He also wanted to give his business a Maori name and so used a Maori word.  Having spent time and money developing his brand Tamati wanted to make sure it was protected.  He wanted to protect both the artistic image in his brand and, if possible, the Maori word.  It would probably not be straight-forward, but there are ways to get it done!

Can you protect, and therefore “own,” traditional Maori images?

The short answer is “No”, but you can protect and “own” your particular representation of a traditional Maori image.  By way of example, take the Air New Zealand logo which utilises the koru.  Air New Zealand do not “own” the koru itself, but they do own their particular visual representation of it as it appears in their well-known branding. 


Intellectual Property protection for Tamati’s image was possible in two main ways – by way of Copyright and Trademark registration. 
Generally speaking, Copyright protection is automatic if an image is original (that is, not a copy of something else).  So, without taking any formal steps, Tamati’s image was Copyright protected from the day it was recorded on paper.

Trademark registration requires application to the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) and payment of a small fee.  If someone has already registered a similar image registration may not be possible.  Further, if the image is offensive registration will not be allowed.  A Maori Trademarks Advisory Committee assesses such applications and takes into account matters such as tikanga, tapu and noa.


Depending on the nature of Tamati’s image, but as long as it was not offensive, he would likely be successful in registering the visual image associated with his brand.

Can you protect Te Reo?

Common Maori words, like English ones or any other language for that matter, are often unable to be registered.  This is because it would be unfair to allow one person to “own” a word like “koru.”   To allow such ownership would prevent others from using the word without permission.  Unlawful use could result in hefty fines or imprisonment.  Other types of words that are unregisterable are those which are superlatives, for example, “Super “or “Awesome”.


Unfortunately for Tamati, the Maori word he chose  is not only a commonly used colloquial word, it is also (when used colloquially) a superlative.  Consequently, by itself ,the word may not be able to be registered as a text mark.

Tamati could however, register his logo as a visual image (or “device”), which would include the word.  This way, if successful, he would obtain full protection for his brand, and even some limited protection of the text.  Alternatively, Tamati could alter the proposed trading name to incorporate a phrase involving the word  itself.  This would more likely be successful.

Do you have a brand to protect?

If you are in business, you have a brand worth protecting.  Contact your professional advisor today to find out whether your brand, which you have invested time and money creating, is safe from being copied or used by others.

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