New Zealand’s national carrier, Air New Zealand, has offended the country’s Māori people by attempting to trademark an image of the words “kia ora”; the greeting for hello.
The airline applied in May to trademark the image showing the greeting, which is also the name of its in-flight magazine.
The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand, told TVNZ the airline was seeking to protect only the “particular stylised forms” of the greeting, rather than the greeting itself, but Indigenous groups said the words belonged to them, and that the trademark application was a cynical business move.
The Māori Council has said it would take the airline to court if it goes ahead with the trademark move, and called the application “harebrained” and “an insult to New Zealanders”.
It is Māori language week in New Zealand and the council’s executive director Matthew Tukaki said Māori people and businesses would boycott the company if the trademark application went ahead.
“Let’s be really clear here. This is an insult pure and simple,” Tukaki said in a statement. “I am sick and tired of cultural appropriation and in fact all Māori are – our language is a national treasure for all of us and we need to respect it. It’s not here for business to use it and profit from it as they see fit.”
“My suggestion is stick to your core business because you sure as hell don’t get to trademark Māori words.”
Intellectual property experts said the trademark was unlikely to be approved because the language was a common greeting between all races in New Zealand, and used abundantly by businesses, government institutions and private companies.
The application would also need to pass through the Māori trademarks advisory committee, which provides advice to the commissioner of trade marks.
Intellectual property rights expert Maui Solomon told RNZ that the airline was “overreaching”. “They’ve already appropriated the koru [fern] symbol for the airline many years ago,” Solomon said. “As a national airline, they’re seizing national icons that’s going to help promote their brand … there should be a benefit-sharing. The obvious way to do that is for Air New Zealand to stump up with a bit of cash.”
Air New Zealand said the trademark application was about protecting the company’s logo, and they had “huge respect” for the Māori language.
“The word kia ora has been registered by a number of applicants to be used for a range of goods and services – dating back to 1992 – both in New Zealand and overseas,” the spokesperson said. “It’s standard corporate practice to have all our logos trademarked and we have just started the process given Kia Ora magazine has recently been through a refresh.”