Frequent flyers on our national airline will no doubt have perused the Air New Zealand in-flight magazine Kia Ora. However, Air New Zealand sparked outcry online yesterday when it emerged that back in May the airline sought to register as a trade mark a logo design of the Maori greeting Kia Ora.
This event raises valid concerns about the commodification of Maori words and imagery by non-Maori commercial entities, particularly given that te reo Maori is a taonga. New Zealand intellectual property law has never done a good job of protecting and providing for indigenous rights.
But there is also widespread misunderstanding about what the effect of such a trade mark registration would be.
It is worth noting at the outset that where a trade mark is applied for that includes elements related to Maori culture, the application is referred to the Maori Trade Marks Advisory Committee who advise the Intellectual Property Office whether the proposed use or registration of that trade mark is, or is likely to be, offensive to Maori. There are already a number of existing trade marks for Kia Ora which have not been deemed to be offensive (including two others that are currently being reviewed by the Office). So this will not hold up the registration of the Kia Ora trade mark. The Office does not have the power to reject the application on the basis that it's inappropriate for a non-Maori organisation to register the words.