One of central Africa’s most iconic tribal communities – the Maasai – are seeking trademark protection for their brand.
More than a million Maasai herd cattle on land straddling the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Their distinctive red-checked togas, fine beadwork and ongoing commitment to a traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle are particularly well-known in the West due to their presence near the game parks of the African Great Lakes.
As reported in the Financial Times, the Maasai are now working with Position Business to claim royalties potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Their plan is to eventually licence their brand to a range of products from fashion to vehicles.
Position Business estimate that more than 1,000 companies, including Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Jaguar Land Rover have used Maasai imagery or iconography to project their brand. Such arrangements would usually attract a 5 per cent fee were a western celebrity involved.
The Maasai plan to initially persuade companies using their brand to pay a royalty. However, those refusing to negotiate will be taken to court.
One company already in the Maasai’s sights is Singapore’s Masai Barefoot Technology. They market a sports shoe claimed to build muscle by emulating the gait of Maasai warriors, and shoes that resemble the Maasai’s re-purposing of old tires into footwear.
Other ethnic communities – for example, Aboriginal Australians – have successfully established trademarks protecting use of their cultural assets. However, registering trademarks across international jurisdictions can cost millions of dollars.